Gunfire was heard near Saudi Arabia’s royal palace Saturday, prompting widespread speculation as authorities said a toy drone was downed.
“An official Riyadh district police spokesman said that at about 19:50 p.m. on Saturday, 5/8/1439 a security screening point in the Al-Khuzama district of Riyadh noticed a small, remote-controlled recreational aircraft (drone) flying without being authorized to do so, which required security personnel at the security point to deal with it in accordance with their orders and instructions in this regard,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The competent authorities have initiated investigative action on the circumstances of the incident,” it added, without commenting on any potential casualties.
As photos and videos of the gunfire emerged on social media, London-based Saudi human rights activist Ghanem al-Masarir claimed that King Salman was moved to the King Khalid Military City in northeastern Saudi Arabia. Some twitter accounts, especially those visibly supportive of Saudi rival Qatar, suggested a coup attempt was unfolding, while others dismissed this, saying they believed a drone had flown too close to the palace, prompting security forces to open fire and down it.
“Ongoing violence in the capital Riyadh and The_Fleeing_of_King_Salman raises concern #Gunfire_in_Al-Khuzami-neighborhood,” Masarir tweeted alongside a video of what appeared to be scenes of unrest.
“With the ongoing violence in the capital Riyadh #Gunfire_in_Al-Khuzama-neighborhood and with #The_fleeing_of_King_Salman I hope that no citizens are hurt,” he added.
According to an unnamed senior Saudi official cited by Reuters, however, King Salman was not at the palace but “at his farm in Al-Diriyah.” The town, located in the north-western outskirts of Riyadh, was the original home of the centuries-old Al Saudi family that leads the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is ruled by a conservative Sunni Muslim monarchy headed by King Salman. His son, Crown Prince Mohammed replaced the king’s nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as next-in-line for the throne in 2015. Crown Prince Mohammed currently serves as deputy prime minister and defense minister.
In this capacity, the young royal has led his country’s war against a Yemeni Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebel group known as Ansar Allah, or the Houthis, which took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in 2015. Saudi Arabia and a coalition of allies have struggled to oust the insurgents, which have fired ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of providing the Houthi movement with ballistic missiles, something Tehran has denied.