Saudis bury King Fahd in unmarked grave

MUSLIM leaders and Saudi princes bade farewell to King Fahd yesterday, saying prayers in a jammed mosque and then burying him in an unmarked desert grave in keeping with the kingdom’s austere version of Islam.

The mourners were all men from the Saudi royal family. Some carried brightly-coloured umbrellas to ward off the punishing sun - crowded into the barren al-Oud cemetery. Snipers kept watch from nearby buildings.

The body of Fahd, who died on Monday aged 84, was wrapped in his own brown abaya cloak as it was lowered into the grave by his family.

Mourners packed the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque to say prayers for the man who led this oil-rich country for almost a quarter of a century.

King Fahd’s body was carried in on a wooden plank by his sons and placed in the mosque amid a crowd of thousands, including his successor, King Abdullah. Some people had tears in their eyes as the special prayer for the dead began.

The mourners stood, raising their arms and chanting “Allah akbar”, (God is great), during the two-minute prayer. Afterwards, King Fahd’s body was carried to an ambulance for a procession of cars to the cemetery.

After the burial, Abdullah went to the royal court, where Saudis and foreign dignitaries filed by to express condolences, shake his hands and kiss his cheeks. Today, the new king will hold audiences with Saudis pledging their allegiance to him in a traditional investiture ceremony.

Non-Muslims were not allowed at the ceremony. Heads of state and delegations from Western nations, including US Vice-President Dick Cheney, Britain’s Prince Charles and French President Jacques Chirac, were expected to attend yesterday’s events.

The funeral rites were stark and simple, despite the presence of royals, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the emirs of Persian Gulf nations and the sultan of Brunei, and the presidents of Islamic and Arab powerhouses such as Egypt, Syria and Pakistan. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari also attended.

The ceremony was not officially a state funeral, as the kingdom’s strict version of Islam known as Wahhabism stresses the equality of all people in death. Wahhabis also discourage visiting graves, as is common in other Muslim cultures, and frown on public displays of grief. The only sign of mourning in the streets of Riyadh were a few small condolence signs put up by foreigners.

Security was tight in the capital, with hundreds of police around the mosque during the prayers for the dead. Shops and roads in a 650ft radius around the mosque were closed and police used dogs and Xray devices to check cars.

Saudi Arabia has been on high alert for terror attacks over the past two years amid a crackdown on Islamic militants allied to Saudi- born dissident and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who has vowed to topple the ruling family for its close ties to the US.

Before the prayer for the dead, King Abdullah sat in a chair in the mosque, with Saudis and heads of state - including Iraq’s Kurdish president and Shi’ite Muslim prime minister - greeting him. Some kissed King Abdullah’s right shoulder in a traditional sign of respect; others kissed his cheeks or shook his hand.

Arab and Islamic leaders mingled with the Saudi princes in the mosque, who were decked out in red headdresses, finely-pressed white robes, and their best brown and black cloaks, embroidered with gold and doused with perfumes.

Saudis flocked to express condolences and their allegiance to King Abdullah, King Fahd’s half brother.

King Abdullah took the throne after King Fahd’s death in a succession that suggested the sprawling royal family was unified in the need to show stability in the first change in the monarchy in 23 years.

Well-wishers lined up at the palaces of provincial governors to pledge loyalty to King Abdullah, who had been the kingdom’s de facto ruler since King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995.

Saudi rulers

Saudi Arabia has had six kings since its founding on September 23, 1932:

Abdul Aziz: believed to have lived to 73, the founder of Saudi Arabia ruled from 1932 until his death on November 9, 1953.

Saud bin Abdul Aziz: 67, ruled from 1953 until 1964. Was born to one of Abdul Aziz’s numerous wives, Wadhba, and died on February 23, 1969.

Faisal bin Abdul Aziz: 69, ruled from 1964 until his assassination on March 25, 1975, by a nephew. Faisal was the son of another Abdul Aziz wife, Tarfah.

Khalid bin Abdul Aziz: 70, ruled from 1975 until his death on June 13, 1982. Son of Jauhara, a further Abdul Aziz wife.

Fahd bin Abdul Aziz: 84, ruled from 1982 until his death on August 1, 2005. One of seven Abdul Aziz sons born to Hussah bint Ahmad al-Sudairy.

Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz: 81, succeeded Fahd, the son of another Abdul Aziz wife, Fahda.

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