When Major General Abdulaziz al-Fagham, a highly decorated bodyguard to Saudi ruler King Salman, was shot dead at a friend’s house in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on September 28, many Saudi Twitter users took to the social media platform to express their shock.
The 48-year-old had become a public figure, as he was regularly seen by the side of the 83-year-old King Salman since he assumed power in 2015, and also by the side of King Abdullah before him.
According to an official police statement, al-Fagham was killed as a result of “a personal dispute” with a friend.
Many Saudi citizens and officials paid their respects at the al-Fagham family home as per Arab and Muslim customs. Among them were Mohamad bin Nayef, the former crown prince who in 2017 was removed from the line of succession by King Salman, who replaced him with his own son Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).
Bin Nayef’s appearance, seen in videos of the gathering published by twitter accounts with usernames including the al-Fagham family name, prompted a large number of tweets with the hashtag #محمد_بن_نايف, or Mohammad bin Nayef, in early October.
According to several Arabic media outlets, the hashtag began trending on Twitter in Saudi Arabia.
Some accounts showed footage of Bin Nayef inside the house speaking to members of the al-Fagham family. One video showed a family member telling bin Nayef that the family has not seen al-Fagham in years, not even during religious holidays, but were satisfied that he was in service to the king.
Who killed al-Fagham?
Al-Fagham’s death led to rumours of palace intrigue. Some Saudi analysts have questioned whether the bodyguard was in communication with senior Saudi princes regarding MBS’s possible plans for succeeding his father.
“Because of al-Fagham’s relationships with many princes of the royal family since the days of King Abdullah, for whom he was his personal bodyguard as well, it’s possible that he was suspected of leaking some information about MBS’s plans,” said Hamzah al-Kinani, a Washington-based Saudi academic and dissident who has worked previously for a senior Saudi royal.
Al-Kinani said his beliefs are based on his knowledge of the workings of the Saudi royal family.
In a video posted online after the killing and apparently filmed by an onlooker in a parked car as the bodyguard exercised in the upscale Al Shatee neighbourhood in Jeddah, al-Fagham was seen walking down the street wearing running shoes, a sweaty T-shirt and dark coloured shorts.
“Walking in public like that is rather unusual for a royal guard who rarely left the king’s side and whose family said publically they have not seen in years,” said Ali al-Ahmad, long-time Saudi affairs analyst and a dissident based in Washington, DC.
Other Saudi watchers said that exercising in public perhaps was an indication that al-Fagham was communicating with others in the royal family who were unhappy with MBS’s policies, including the war in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which have tarnished the kingdom’s image in the Arab and Muslim world in particular.
Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who worked in the Middle East, said the killing of al-Fagham is “very strange” and “does not make any sense”.
“To put this incident in perspective it goes along with the Khashoggi’s killing, the attack on the Abqaiq oil storage facilities at Aramco Company and the war in Yemen. All of this makes me worried about the future and stability of Saudi Arabia,” he said.