Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, whose death was announced on state television on Saturday, was a long-serving interior minister who led an iron-fisted crackdown on Al Qaeda.
Prince Nayef, 79, was a pragmatist who liked to describe himself as a soldier under the command of the Saudi king.
Prince Nayef, who was recently abroad for medical treatment, “died outside the kingdom”, said Al Ekhbariyah Television, quoting a statement from the royal court.
He was shown on television in Geneva three days ago greeting supporters.
According to experts, Prince Nayef was treated abroad in April for cancer.
He was heir to the Saudi throne for less than a year, having been named crown prince late last October after the death of his brother Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz.
Interior minister for more than three decades, Prince Nayef enjoyed strong relations across the Arab region. Diplomats said he played a key role in Riyadh’s decisions to host Tunisia’s ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after his January 2011 overthrow, and to send security forces in March last year to Bahrain.
Born in the western city of Taif in 1933, Prince Nayef was quickly pushed into public service, being named governor of Riyadh when he was barely 20.
His elder brother Fahd bin Abdulaziz brought him into the interior ministry, where he was named deputy minister in 1970 and minister five years later, when Fahd became crown prince.
Prince Nayef was credited for the successful crackdown on Al Qaeda militants in subsequent years, halting their wave of bloody attacks on the kingdom between 2003 and 2006. His internal security campaign forced Al Qaeda leaders and many members to flee to southern neighbour Yemen, where they formed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which continued to threaten Saudi interests.
Charged with managing the country’s borders, its internal crime-fighting apparatus and the internal intelligence force the mabahith, Nayef dismantled charities which used to collect donations for the late Osama bin Laden and his network.
Prince Nayef’s son Prince Mohammed, who is the assistant interior minister and the kingdom’s top counter-terrorism official, escaped assassination in 2009 when a suicide bomber tried to kill him.
In recent years he transferred day-to-day security responsibilities to Mohammed, who has been even more methodical in pursuing radicals and battling their ideology.
Saudis showed support and appreciation for Nayef because of public perceptions that he could deliver on national security.