Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died early on Friday and his brother Salman became king, the royal court in the world’s top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam said in a statement carried by state television.
King Salman has named his half-brother Muqrin as his crown prince and heir.
‘His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1am this morning,’ said the statement.
Abdullah, thought to have been born in 1923, had ruled Saudi Arabia as king since 2006, but had run the country as de facto regent for a decade before that after his predecessor King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke.
At stake with the appointment of Salman as king is the future direction of the United States’ most important Arab ally and self-appointed champion of Sunni Islam at a moment of unprecedented turmoil across the Middle East.
Abdullah played a guiding role in Saudi Arabia’s support for Egypt’s government after the military intervened in 2012, and drove his country’s support for Syria’s rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
King Salman, thought to be 79, has been crown prince and defence minister since 2012. He was governor of Riyadh province for five decades before that.