2017–2019 Saudi Arabian purge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2017–19 Saudi Arabian purge
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Date4 November 2017 – 30 January 2019
LocationSaudi Arabia
TypeGovernmental purge

The 2017–19 Saudi Arabian purge was the mass arrest of a number of prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and business people in Saudi Arabia on 4 November 2017.[2] It took place weeks after the creation of an anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The purge helped centralize political powers in the hands of Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman and undermine the pre-existing structure of consensus-based governance among Saudi elites.[3][4] The arrests resulted in the final sidelining of the faction of King Abdullah, and Mohammed bin Salman's complete consolidation of control of all three branches of the security forces.[5][6] It also cemented bin Salman's supremacy over business elites in Saudi Arabia and resulted in a mass seizure of assets by the bin Salman regime.[4]

The detainees were confined at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh (which had hosted the announcement for the planned city of Neom on 24 October 2017),[2][6] which subsequently stopped accepting new bookings and told guests to leave.[5] Private jets were also grounded to prevent suspects from fleeing the country.[5]

As many as 500 people were rounded up in the sweep.[7] Saudi Arabian banks froze more than 2,000 domestic accounts as part of the crackdown.[8] According to The Wall Street Journal, the Saudi government targeted cash and assets worth up to $800 billion.[9] The Saudi authorities claimed that amount was composed of assets worth around $300 billion to $400 billion that they can prove was linked to corruption.[10][11]

The anti-corruption committee ended its mission on 30 January 2019, concluding that 381 individuals were apprehended, some of them were able to give their testimony, and $107 billion was recovered to the state treasury as a result.[12][1]


The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials, and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.[13]

Tiger Squad[edit]

According to the Middle East Eye, an assassination campaign against critics of the monarchy was carried out in parallel to the overt arrests of the purge, by the Tiger Squad, which was formed in 2017 and as of October 2018, consisted of 50 secret service and military personnel. The group members were recruited from different branches of the Saudi forces, directing several areas of expertise.[14]

The Tiger Squad allegedly assassinates dissidents using varying covert methods, such as planned car and aircraft accidents, house fires, and poisoning at hospitals during routine health checkups. The five-member squad were also the part of the 15-member death squad who assassinated Jamal Khashoggi.[14]

According to the sources, bin Salman chose silent murder instead of arrest as the method of repression due to the fact that only arresting the dissidents sparks international pressures for releasing them, whereas silent murder covers it up quietly. Prince Mansour bin Muqrin died when his personal aircraft crashed,[15] although it was allegedly shot down as he tried to flee the country from the purge and then made to appear as an accident.[14] Meshal Saad al-Bostani, a member of the Tiger Squad and a lieutenant in the Saudi airforce was allegedly behind the murder and he himself would die in a car accident in Riyadh while according to a Turkish news outlet he had actually been murdered by poison.[16]

Another victim was Suliman Abdul Rahman al-Thuniyan, a Saudi court judge who was murdered by injection of a deadly virus when he visited a hospital for a regular health checkup. This took place after he had opposed bin Salman's 2030 Economic Vision.[14]


King Salman stated that the anti-corruption committee need to "identify offences, crimes and persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption". He also referred to the "exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to illicitly accrue money".[17][13]


On 24 October 2017 Mohammad bin Salman who ordered the arrests, told investors in Riyadh that "We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world". He also pledged to counter extremism.[18]

List of involved people[edit]

Fahd bin Abdullah
Muhammad bin Nayef
Mutaib bin Abdullah

Those arrested, detained, sanctioned or removed from their posts include, but are not limited to:



Uncertain status[edit]

  • Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, youngest son of King Fahd. There were rumors that Abdul Aziz, age 44, was killed while resisting arrest, but the Saudi information ministry released a statement saying that the prince was "alive and well."[31]
  • Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, deputy governor of Asir and son of former Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz. He was killed in a helicopter crash, though unconfirmed allegations have been made that his helicopter was shot down while he was attempting to flee the country.[32][14][33]




Military officers[edit]


  • Abdullah Sultan, commander of the Saudi navy[36]
  • Ali Al Qahtani, major general in Saudi army.[37] He died in custody.[37]

Businessmen and professionals[edit]


Salman al-Ouda

Islamic Scholars and Media Figures[edit]


Uncertain status[edit]

  • Ahmed al-Amari, Islamic scholar and Dean of the Quran College at the Islamic University of Madinah. Died in custody, however there are unconfirmed allegations he was killed.[49]


According to Sam Blatteis, Middle East Public Policy Manager for Deloitte[50] and a former Google head of public policy in the Persian Gulf, "This is the closest thing in the Middle East to glasnost"; other businessmen have compared the purge to Russian president Vladimir Putin's politically motivated attacks on Russian oligarchs.[9] The Economist likened the purge to the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.[6] Thomas Friedman at The New York Times called it Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring.[51]

In Saudi Arabia the purge was supported by the Council of Senior Scholars.[51][52]


The 2017 purge of the Saudi political and business elite was followed in 2018 by arrests of 17 women's rights activists, including Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Mana and Madeha al-Ajroush[53] as well as Hatoon al-Fassi, a women's rights activist and associate professor of women's history.[54] Eastern Province human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham and her husband, already in prison since December 2015, were under legal threat of beheading along with four colleagues, with a final hearing to take place on 28 October 2018 in the Specialized Criminal Court.[55][56]

On 19 November 2020, some of the Saudi detainees from the night of Ritz-Carlton corruption purge anonymously disclosed details of the torture they endured and coercion by Saudi Arabia. The detainees claim that they were beaten and intimidated by authorities under the supervision of two ministers, who were both close confidantes of the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman who ordered the purge.[57]

Nasser Al Qarni, the son of a prominent Saudi cleric, Awad Al-Qarni, who was arrested during the 2017 purge, was given a warning by the Saudi state security officials from discussing the treatment of his father. Nasser was warned that doing so would lead to his imprisonment or execution. The criticism of the kingdom in Awad’s tweet led to his arrest in 2017. As a result of the threat from the state security, Nasser applied for an asylum and moved to the UK.[58]

Committee conclusion[edit]

On 30 January 2019, the Saudi King Salman reviewed the final report submitted by the committee chairman stating that 381 individuals were ordered and some of them as witnesses.[1] Settlements were made with 87 individual resulting in recovering  $107 billion in the form of real estate, companies, cash, and other assets.[59] The report also stated that Saudi Arabia's Public Prosecutor rejected the settlements with 56 individuals due to already existing criminal charges against them, while eight individuals denied the settlements and were referred to the Public Prosecutor.[1][12][59]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Statement by the Royal Court: Anti Corruption Committee Concludes its Tasks the official Saudi Press Agency". www.spa.gov.sa. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b David Kirkpatrick (4 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia Arrests 11 Princes, Including Billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  3. ^ Alhussein, Eman (2023), "Saudi Arabias centralized political structure: prospects and challenges", Handbook of Middle East Politics, Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 144–157, ISBN 978-1-80220-563-3
  4. ^ a b Davidson, Christopher M. (2021), "Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (a.k.a. "MBS"): King in all but name (born 1985)" (PDF), Dictators and Autocrats, Routledge, doi:10.4324/9781003100508-23/, ISBN 978-1-003-10050-8, archived from the original on 30 December 2023
  5. ^ a b c d "Saudi Arabia's unprecedented shake-up". The Economist. 5 November 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "The world should push the crown prince to reform Saudi Arabia, not wreck it". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  7. ^ Nicholas Kulish (6 November 2017). "Ritz-Carlton Has Become a Gilded Cage for Saudi Royals". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Exclusive: Saudi prince detention holds up loan to investment firm - sources Reuters
  9. ^ a b "The Saudi purge will spook global investors and unsettle oil markets". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d e Said, Summer; Stancati, Margherita (17 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia Pursues Cash Settlements as Crackdown Expands". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on 17 November 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e Pavel Golovkin (17 November 2017). "Saudi Crackdown Escalates With Arrests of Top Military Officials". MSN. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia closes 15-month anti-corruption campaign: SPA". Reuters. 30 January 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  13. ^ a b Souag, Mostefa; Anstey, Al, eds. (6 November 2017). "Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman widens purge". Al Jazeera. Doha, Qatar: Al Jazeera Media Network. Archived from the original on 1 February 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d e Abu Sneineh, Mustafa (22 October 2018). "REVEALED: The Saudi death squad MBS uses to silence dissent". Middle East Eye. Archived from the original on 22 October 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
  15. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D.; Schmitt, Eric (5 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia Arrests 11 Princes, Including Prominent Billionaire". The New York Times. New York City, New York, United States of America. p. A1. Archived from the original on 4 March 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  16. ^ Lockie, Alex; Haltiwanger, John (18 October 2018). Carlson, Nicholas (ed.). "One of the men suspected of killing Jamal Khashoggi reportedly died in a car crash after returning to Saudi Arabia". Business Insider. New York City, New York, United States of America: Insider Inc. (Axel Springer SE). Archived from the original on 4 June 2020. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  17. ^ Souag, Mostefa; Anstey, Al, eds. (5 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia princes detained, ministers dismissed". Al Jazeera. Doha, Qatar: Al Jazeera Media Network. Archived from the original on 19 March 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  18. ^ Dorell, Oren (5 November 2017). Carroll, Nicole (ed.). "Saudi prince behind sweep of arrests is known as young and brash, but has Trump's ear". USA Today. McLean, Virginia, United States of America: Gannett. ISSN 0734-7456. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  19. ^ Michelle Mark (4 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia arrests 11 princes, including billionaire investor Prince al-Waleed bin Talal". Business Insider. Retrieved 5 November 2017. Eleven princes and dozens of former ministers were detained ... The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts.
  20. ^ "Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed freed after 'settlement'". Agence France-Presse. 27 January 2018. Retrieved 27 January 2018. The prince was released following an undisclosed financial agreement with the government, similar to deals that authorities struck with most other detainees in exchange for their freedom.
  21. ^ "Saudis arrest 11 princes, dozens of ex-ministers in shake-up". ynetnews. 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  22. ^ "U.S. officials: Saudi crown prince has hidden his mother from his father, the king". NBC News. 15 March 2018.
  23. ^ "Bin Salman re-arrests Prince Khaled Bin Talal days after his father's death". Middle East Monitor. 28 December 2018.
  24. ^ a b "Senior Saudi figures tortured and beaten in purge". Middle East Eye. 9 November 2017.
  25. ^ a b Donna Abu-Nasr; Glen Carey; Vivian Nereim (4 November 2017). "Saudi Purge Sees Senior Princes, Top Billionaire Detained". Bloomberg. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  26. ^ Abisoye, Olusegun (9 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia Arrests Princess Reem As Bin Salman's Anti-Corruption War Continues". Independent Nigeria. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  27. ^ a b Patrick Wintour (5 November 2017). "Saudi arrests show crown prince is a risk-taker with a zeal for reform". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  28. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia: Prince in Incommunicado Detention". Human Rights Watch. 9 May 2020. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  29. ^ a b Becky Anderson and Sarah El Sirgany (4 November 2017). "Saudi anti-corruption sweep leads to high-profile arrests". CNN. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  30. ^ "The case of a Saudi prince illustrates a pattern of arbitrary detention". Egypt Independent. CNN. 17 April 2019. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  31. ^ Akkad, Dania (8 November 2017). "Mystery surrounds fate of late King Fahd's son amid Saudi crackdown". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  32. ^ "Saudi Purge: Reports claim Prince Muqrin helicopter did not crash, was shot down". India Today. 9 November 2017.
  33. ^ "Saudi Prince Killed While Trying to Flee amid Royal Purge: Source". Tasnim News Agency. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  34. ^ a b c d Igor Bosilkovski (4 November 2017). "Saudi Billionaire Prince Alwaleed Reportedly One of at Least A Dozen Arrested For Corruption". Forbes. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  35. ^ a b "Factbox: Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers in anti-corruption probe". Reuters. 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  36. ^ Alexandra Zavis; Nabih Bulos (6 November 2017). "Q&A: Saudi Arabia's Game of Thrones: Who got caught in the widening corruption crackdown?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 August 2020.
  37. ^ a b "The High Cost of Change Repression Under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reforms". Human Rights Watch. 4 November 2019. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  38. ^ "Saudi princes among dozens detained in 'corruption' purge". BBC. 5 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  39. ^ Factbox: Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers in anti-corruption probe, 5 November 2017, Reuters
  40. ^ "Al Tayyar says operating normally after founder's arrest". Argaam. 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  41. ^ Daily Sabah with Agencies, Istanbul (5 November 2017). "Alwaleed bin Talal, two other billionaires tycoons among Saudi arrests". Daily Sabah. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  42. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (2 March 2019). "Saudi Arabia Is Said to Have Tortured an American Citizen". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  43. ^ "Saudi clerics detained in apparent bid to silence dissent". Reuters. 10 September 2017.
  44. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia 'detains' more preachers". Al-Jazeera. 13 September 2017.
  45. ^ "Two leading Saudi dissident clerics among 20 arrested: Reports". Middle East Eye. 12 September 2017.
  46. ^ "Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty for cleric Ali al-Omari". Middle East Eye. 5 September 2018.
  47. ^ "Saudi University Dismissing Muslim Brotherhood-Linked Academics". Center for Security Policy. 28 September 2017.
  48. ^ "Saudi Arabia arrests prominent cleric Safar al-Hawali: activists". Reuters. 12 July 2018.
  49. ^ "Prominent Saudi scholar Ahmed al-Amari dies in prison: Activists". Al Jazeera. 21 January 2019.
  50. ^ "Sam Blatteis". Middle East Institute. n.d. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  51. ^ a b Thomas L. Friedman (23 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring, at Last". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  52. ^ "Muhammad bin Salman has swept aside those who challenge his power". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  53. ^ McKernan, Bethan (23 May 2018). "Saudi police arrest three more women's rights activists". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 24 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  54. ^ "Saudis arrest another women's right activist". Al Jazeera English. 27 June 2018. Archived from the original on 27 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  55. ^ Brennan, David (21 August 2018). "Who Is Israa al-Ghomgham? Female Saudi Activist May Be Beheaded After Death Sentence". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 24 August 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  56. ^ "Saudi Prosecution Seeks Death Penalty for Female Activist". Human Rights Watch. 21 August 2018. Archived from the original on 23 August 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  57. ^ "Night of the beating': details emerge of Riyadh Ritz-Carlton purge". The guardian. 19 November 2020. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  58. ^ "Son of Jailed Saudi Cleric Says Life Threatened, Seeks Asylum in UK". Bloomberg.com. 4 October 2022. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  59. ^ a b "Saudi king presented with final corruption crackdown report, $107 bln recovered". Al Arabiya. 30 January 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2019.