Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud — heir apparent to the Saudi crown — died at a New York hospital Saturday, raising questions about succession in the oil-rich kingdom, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The crown prince, who served as Saudi Arabia's defense minister for five decades, during which time Saudi Arabia became the largest buyer of U.S. weapons — spending $11.2 billion between 2005 and 2008 alone — had various medical issues in recent years.
He was in New York City in 2011 for a “private holiday” that included medical tests, according to the Saudi Press Agency, quoted by Bloomberg. He had surgery in New York in 2009 for an undisclosed illness, CNN reports.
Time magazine reported in 2005 that Crown Prince Sultan had colon cancer.
Saudi state TV announced the death and then began playing verses from the Koran, as is customary, Bloomberg reports.
The prince died "outside the kingdom after suffering an illness," the Royal Court said in a statement posted on the state-run Saudi Press Agency website. "Prayer will be held at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh after Asr prayer on Tuesday."
Arrangements are under way to transport his body back to Saudi Arabia, officials said.
Crown Prince Sultan was born in Riyadh in 1928, Bloomberg reports, citing the Saudi embassy in Washington.
He was named crown prince in 2005 following the death of his brother, King Fahd, and his half brother is the current Saudi ruler King Abdullah.
He took a leading role in Saudi Arabia's involvement in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, according to CNN.
His son, Prince Bandar, served as U.S. ambassador from 1983 to 2005 and was consider a family friend of President George W. Bush.
According to Bloomberg:
The U.S. Defense Department told Congress in October 2010 that it wants to sell as much as $60 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia. U.S. policy makers want the proposed sale to include F-15 fighter jets, attack helicopters, and satellite-guided smart bombs to counter Iranian military ambitions in the Persian Gulf and regional extremists.
The Associated Press writes that Prince Nayef, the powerful interior minister in charge of internal security forces, is the most likely to replace the crown prince.
King Abdullah, who is also reportedly ailing, "gave Nayef — also his half-brother — an implicit nod in 2009 by naming him second deputy prime minister, traditionally the post of the second in line to the throne."