Were Saudi Arabia’s new intelligence chief and his deputy assassinated in an explosion in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 26? So far the country’s leaders have refused to even address the question, and intelligence services around the world have remained tight-lipped about the story.
If the rumors are true, who was behind the assassination of the man who has played a central part in funneling arms to Syrian rebels and Iranian opposition groups?
Rumors that Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Crown Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, met his end, first surfaced in the Paris-based website the Voltaire Network, and later in the DEBKAfile, an Israeli-based web publication known for breaking stories about intelligence matters. They claimed the killing of the two Saudi figures happened within Saudi intelligence headquarters.
At first, it was suggested that Syria killed Bandar for masterminding the July 18, 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed four members of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s inner circle, including his defense minister and deputy.
The linking of Syria to the reported death of Bandar was inevitable, given the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israel’s Mossad have used Bandar to funnel weapons to the rebels trying to topple the Syrian government.
Other news organizations speculated that Iran was behind Bandar’s demise, arguing the Iranians had every reason to target Saudi intelligence, which was assisting the CIA and Mossad in their Middle East operations. Iran’s intelligence services possess the skills to penetrate the headquarters of Saudi intelligence. Therefore, it is speculated that they undertook the operation as a quid pro quo for years of support from their ally, Syria. Iran has also refused to respond to the allegation that its people were involved. Instead, an Iranian publication reported Bandar was being investigated for bribery by the U.S. Justice Department at the time of his assassination.
Close observers of the intelligence world have been startled that even in Moscow, where rich gossip can be mined, no one in the FSB, the KGB’s successor, or the GRU, the country’s military intelligence, has been willing to talk openly about the mystery.
Forgotten in all of the theories was the fact Bandar had many enemies in the Islamic world. He was a complicated figure, best known to the American media as a flamboyant Saudi ambassador to Washington for two decades. He loved the high life, the Dallas Cowboys and was a personal friend of the Bush family.
In 2005, Bandar was called home from Washington by the Saudi royal family when it became clear he was the focus of a trans-Atlantic inquiry into a bribery scandal. He quickly faded from the headlines but was busy working with the CIA and Mossad monitoring Iran.
More recently, prior to his appointment as intelligence chief, he was a key figure in combating the Arab spring in the region and devising a way to ensure Saudi Arabia and its closest allies did not succumb to change.
Sooner or later, the Saudis may feel compelled to tell the world if Bandar is alive or dead. If he is dead, they may be as confused as the rest of us about who killed him.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.