US Supporter Saudi Crown Prince Nayef Dies

Posted on: 2:23 pm, June 16, 2012, by , updated on: 04:39pm, June 16, 2012

Saudi Crown Prince Nayef (CNN)

Saudi Crown Prince Nayef (CNN)

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, a hard-ine conservative who is credited with pushing back al Qaeda, has died, Saudi state TV said on Saturday.

Nayef, who had been named crown prince in October by his brother the king, was heir to the Saudi throne. State TV is broadcasting Quran readings as an expression of mourning for the prince, who died in Geneva, Switzerland.

“It is a shock. We are knew his health was frail but his death is a shock,” Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nogali told CNN. “We still don’t know the reason behind his death.”

The Saudi Press Agency published a statement from the Royal Court, saying it “condoles the Saudi people on the deceased prince pray to God to bless his soul and to reward him for his services to his religion and homeland.”

Nayef’s body will arrive in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Sunday and will be buried after afternoon prayer in Mecca, Nogali said.

After the funeral, a period of mourning — most likely for three days — will be announced, a Saudi official told CNN. The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

President Obama released a statement Saturday offering his condolences.

“Under his leadership, the United States and Saudi Arabia developed a strong and effective partnership in the fight against terrorism, one that has saved countless American and Saudi lives,” Obama said.

He praised Nayef for supporting a broad partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

It is expected that authorities selected by the king to choose a successor will meet as soon as the mourning period is over, the official said. A new crown prince could be named within the next three to four days, the source said.

Nayef served as Saudi interior minister since 1975, having overseen the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts.

He also served as deputy premier.

A classified U.S. Embassy cable leaked by the website WikiLeaks described Nayef as a hard-line conservative who was lukewarm to King Abdullah’s reform initiatives.

Nayef led the crackdown against hard-line Islamists who took control of Mecca in 1979, and also oversaw the smashing of Saudi-based al Qaeda cells in the mid-2000s.

In recent years, his son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, has led the kingdom’s fight against al Qaeda as the elder Nayef seemed to have taken more of backseat.

On Saturday, the Bahrain state-run news agency announced three days of mourning in that country and ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff there and at its embassies abroad. Kuwait also announced a three-day mourning period.

CNN’s Rima Maktabi, Hamdi Alkhshali, Mohammed Jamjoom and Kevin Flower contributed to this report.