Saudi prince killed in helicopter crash a day after royal purge

A Saudi prince died in a helicopter crash near the Yemeni border Sunday afternoon, one day after the kingdom’s young crown prince ordered a shocking purge of princes and some of the country’s most influential leaders.

Prince Mansour Bin Muqrin was killed in the crash “while performing an inspection in remote parts of The Governorate,” a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington told NBC News.

The prince was traveling with a team of other government officials. Their fate remains unknown.

Hours after the fatal crash, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations closed Yemen’s land, sea and air ports. Saudi officials said they had intercepted a missile near Riyadh’s airport on Saturday that was fired from war-torn Yemen.

The crash happened a day after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the arrest of 11 of his royal cousins, as well as nearly 40 of the country’s most powerful military officers, influential businessmen and government ministers – some of them potential rivals. No immediate connection was drawn between the events.

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A man uses a makeshift aerial lift to transport a cart between Fifa Mountains, in Jazan, south of Saudi Arabia, April 8, 2017. Picture taken April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hwaity
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A man display dates for sale during the Festival of Dates ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, in Buraidah, north of Riyadh August 18, 2009. Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking and conducting sexual relations from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (SAUDI ARABIA SOCIETY)
Light trails from automobile traffic traveling along the King Fahd highway, left, and Olaya Street, right, lead towards the Kingdom Tower, center rear, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Women wait outside a shop in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 17, 2009. Saudis have cheered King Abdullah's sweeping government shakeup as a bold step forward, after he sacked two powerful conservative religious figures and named the country's first-ever woman minister. The Saudi monarch announced the first major government shakeup on February 14 since he became king in August 2005, naming four new ministers, changing a number of top judiciary chiefs and shaking up the Ulema Council, the leading clerics whose interpretations of Islamic rules underpin daily life in the kingdom. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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The late evening sun sets overs residential and commercial buildings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Customers use automated teller machines (ATM) inside the Al Rajhi Bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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On Saturday, Prince Mohammed, 32, arrested billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, with major holdings in Western firms, as well as two of the late King Abdullah’s sons.

The crown prince said the unprecedented mass roundup is part of a larger crackdown on corruption targeting senior royals and their business associates, who have long been seen as operating above the law.

“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” a royal decree said.

Prince Alwaleed is accused of embezzlement, hiring bogus staffers and giving contracts to his own companies – including a $10 billion deal for walkie-talkies and bulletproof military gear.

The arrest of senior princes and 38 others upends a longstanding tradition among the ruling Al Saud family to keep their disagreements private in an effort to show strength and unity in the face of Saudi Arabia’s many tribes and factions.

The apprehended men were being held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which recently was the site of a major investment conference that the crown prince attended with global business titans.

A Saudi official said other five-star hotels across the capital were also being used to hold some of those arrested. The men in custody have all been blocked from leaving the country, according to reports.

The surprise arrests were welcomed by pro-government media outlets as the clearest sign yet that Prince Mohammed is keeping his promise to reform the country as it moves to overhaul its economy away from dependence on oil and liberalize some aspects of the ultraconservative society.

In September, the king lifted a ban on women driving.

The crown prince has also slashed state spending in some areas and plans a big sale of state assets, including floating part of state oil giant Saudi Aramco on international markets.

The purge was hailed by the kingdom’s top council of clerics. They issued a public statement saying it is an Islamic duty to fight corruption – essentially giving religious backing to the high-level arrests.

The young prince has risen from near obscurity to become Saudi Arabia’s most talked about and powerful prince in the less than three years since his father ascended to the throne.

With News Wire Services

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