RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan will return to the kingdom within days after spending around two months abroad for surgery and retake his position as intelligence chief, including control of the Syrian dossier, said Saudi security officials late Sunday.
The Saudi officials said that during Prince Bandar's absence, Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef was put in charge of the Syrian file and of the intelligence agency.
The three security officials said the 65 year-old prince was seeking medical attention in the U.S. and resting in Morocco after surgery on his shoulder. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Bandar, who formerly served as Saudi ambassador to the U.S. for 22 years, has had special responsibility for the Levant for years, leading Saudi intelligence and strategic affairs in the region. Some analysts have speculated that Bandar has been the key figure trying to boost Saudi weapons flow to Syrian rebel forces seeking to oust President Bashar Assad's government.
The officials said that Bandar held a number of official meetings while in Morocco, including with Saudi deputy defense minister Salman bin Sultan. The deputy defense minister briefed Bandar on his official visits to Washington and Paris last month, they added, also saying that Bandar met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan while in Marrakech.
Some analysts had said Bandar may have been sidelined because the U.S. was unhappy with his handling of Syria's civil war, mostly his alleged support for radical groups among Syria's opposition.
However, a top Saudi diplomat previously told the Associated Press that Bandar could not have taken any decisions without King Abdullah's approval. He said that the interior minister took over Bandar's responsibilities in his absence because he too has experience in dealing with counterterrorism and security affairs.
In recent months, Saudi Arabia has issued a royal decree that imposes prison sentences on Saudi nationals who fight in conflicts abroad or those who incite them to fight. The decree was announced just one day after a sweeping anti-terrorism law went into effect in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom has also declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, along with al-Qaida's branches in Yemen and Iraq, the Syrian al-Nusra Front, Saudi Hezbollah and Yemen's Shiite Hawthis.