TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s public disappearance for three weeks, since heavy shooting and gunfire bursts in Riyadh, has raised speculation about his fate.
Muhammad bin Salman (MBS), the 32-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has not been seen in public after reports of heavy gunfire in Riyadh’s al-Khozama neighborhood, where a palace belonging to King Salman, is located.
The surprising absence of MBS from the media glare despite his overt enthusiasm has raised speculation that the April shooting may have occurred during a coup attempt by some Saudi princes.
The Saudi government claims that the heavy gunfire was only an operation to shoot down a recreational drone.
"It was a small remote-controlled toy airplane that came into restricted airspace and was immediately shot down,” a Saudi official had announced after the incident.
Meanwhile, Saudi activists in the social media say the shooting had nothing to do with a drone, but it was an attack from vehicles carrying heavy machine guns and shooting randomly.
Some sources affiliated with Saudi opposition groups also suggest that the April shooting had frightened MBS, forcing him to ban the royal family members and top officials from leaving the country for fear that his cousin and former crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayef, would try to topple him.
The official Saudi websites have not released any new photo of bin Salman for the past three weeks. The latest stories covering news of MBS’s meetings and visits date back to April 24.
He is even absent in the photo of a meeting of Saudi Arabia’s council of ministers, released on May 15.
MBS Possibly Dead
Kayhan said on Thursday it has obtained a copy of a report by an Arab intelligence apparatus that MBS could have been killed in the shooting incident late April.
"This intelligence service in a confidential report to the senior officials of an unnamed Arab state insists that at least two bullets have hit bin Salman in April 21 clashes in Riyadh and it is even possible that he is dead,” said Hussein Shariatmadari, the head of the Kayhan Group of Newspapers, wrote.
The paper said that bin Salman was not even seen on camera when new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid his maiden visit to Riyadh in late April, though Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir were photographed.
"There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the absence of nearly 30 days of Muhammad bin Sulman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is due to an incident which is being hidden from the public,” Kayhan said.
According to the newspaper, on April 21, 2018 news agencies reported that Saudi forces shot down a "toy drone” near royal palace but videos and pictures published from the site of the conflict on social media clearly illustrated the movement of tanks and armored vehicles around the royal palace, and sounds of an exchange of fire with heavy weapons between the Royal Guard and a group whose identity has not been disclosed yet.