A strong record
Of all the people who have held important positions in the Saudi Ministry of Interior, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef was unique. Upon assuming the position of Assistant Secretary of the Interior in the late 1990s, US officials breathed a sigh of relief. They trusted him. He had become an important and well-respected figure to the US in the war on terror.
His assumption of such a position was considered good fortune by the Americans and Saudis alike, as his tenure coincided with the beginning of al-Qaeda’s activities towards the Kingdom.
Prince Muhammad bin Nayef was the Deputy Minister of the Interior in the Kingdom as the most difficult period of unrest was passing in the Kingdom. But he confronted it and put himself in the crossfire to defend his countrymen. Like his father Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who was also the Minister of the Interior, he similarly had the qualities of commitment and sacrifice.
He pursued terrorists relentlessly, bringing great results for the Saudi people. His pleasure was in protecting his homeland from internal dangers.
His unique strategy in combating terrorist outposts allowed him to walk the thin line between firmly confronting terrorism and reassuring the Saudi public, winning over public opinion both at home and abroad.
In addition to all this, he was keen to reassure foreigners residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, sometimes evening responding to calls from the families of residents in order to offer them reassurances.
The most prominent successes of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was to thwart terrorist attempts to win the sympathy of the people. For example, he thwarted the attempt to kidnap a young American diplomat during an attack on the American consulate in Jeddah.
Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s efforts to serve his country were not limited to working inside it. His efforts extended outside the borders of the Kingdom, where he monitored armed terrorist groups. After these terrorists gave up on working inside Saudi Arabia, after the Prince tightened his grip on them, they went to Yemen, and in 2009, out of the responsibility that he bore towards all humanity, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef established a system to monitor the organisation abroad. This allowed him to uncover an Al Qaeda plot, which involved placing bombs on board a UPS and FedEx aircrafts, which were heading from Yemen to Chicago and the city of Detroit in the US, ahead of the US congressional elections in 2010.
Accordingly, the Prince called the White House and informed John Brennan, President Obama’s advisor for counterterrorism affairs, telling him how to identify the parcels containing the bombs and tracking them on the planes. The two planes were intercepted at West Midlands Airport in the UK, and the bombs were defused and secured.
This incident, along with others, increased the respect Prince Muhammad bin Nayef held among the senior leaders of the White House. He became an international icon in the field of countering terrorism.
A wise and structured strategy:
Besides the field work of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, in his capacity as Assistant Minister of Interior, he had an effective role in the legislative arena. This included developing a new strategy to combat terrorism. He introduced policies including:
- The tightening of measures to track down terrorists.
- Introducing lists of wanted people within a new system, updating these lists periodically, and linking them to the results of criminal investigations.
- Raising the efficiency of security personnel so that the raids they carried out did not affect civilians, only the targeted terrorists themselves. This was known as qualitative competence.
- Bin Nayef studied the violence that occurred in Algeria in the 1990s in its fight against terrorism, and worked to ensure that this would not be repeated in his homeland.
- An order of complete secrecy on all procedures.
- Use the media as a weapon against terrorist organisations, using it to explain the threat posed by such groups to the public security in the Kingdom.
- He also transformed Saudi prisons from mere detention facilities to rehabilitative facilities, using psychologists to treat terrorists. Inmates had different activities and interests, and they were allowed to visit their families. In addition, they could attend family events. The families also received special financial aid to improve their housing conditions, medical care and education, in order to cut off the source of grievances that could lead to terrorist activities. This proved greatly successful, and the percentage of those returning to terrorism after leaving Saudi prisons was less than in the United States or Europe.
A new era
In June 2012, the royal family received the news of the death of Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior, and the important position became vacant.
There was no one more qualified to occupy this position than Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Accordingly, in 5 November of the same year, a royal decree was issued appointing bin Nayef as Minister of Interior.
After assuming this sensitive ministerial position, the Prince faced new challenges from a new type of terrorist organisation – ISIS.
ISIS sought to control Mecca, and announced in November 2014 that they had taken control of the Grand Mosque. They published fake pictures of their black flag flying over the Holy Kaaba and tried to clash with security forces on the border.
Prince Muhammad bin Nayef responded to these threats with violence and firmness, and ordered the pursuit of the terrorists, arresting some of them. The Kingdom also established a security wall 600 miles long along the borders of the Kingdom and Iraq.