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in Defence / People

Mystery surrounds death of Saudi chief of staff

Posted 25 June 2015 · Add Comment

Arabian Aerospace defence editor Jon Lake reports that there is mystery surrounding the death of the Saudi Arabian Chief of Air Staff, Lt. General Mohammad Bin Ahmad Al-Shaalan, the Commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).

Official reports last week suggested that Al-Shaalan had died in a London hospital on June 10 following a heart attack “during a business trip outside the Kingdom
The statement said he was being replaced by his deputy, Major-General Abdullah Bin Ibrahim Al-Ghamdi, although the prestigious Lebanon-based Tactical Report reported that Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz, was “showing no enthusiasm” to appoint Al-Ghamdi to the role.
However, anonymous and unverified Yemeni sources say that Lt General Shaalan had actually been killed in the Yemeni army and Ansarullah (Shia Houthi forces) missile attacks against Khamis Mushait on 6 June, and these reports were widely repeated in the Press – especially in pro-Iranian news outlets.

This attack has also been the subject of very different reports. Saudi social media described a missile attack at 0245 local, which left air raid warnings blaring across the city. Official Saudi sources described an attack by a single ‘Scud’ missile that was successfully intercepted by two Patriot missiles, before coalition forces destroyed the rocket launcher whose location was identified south of Saada in Yemen. Yemeni sources described an attack by a barrage of 15 missiles – two or three of which were intercepted by US (rather than Saudi) Patriots – and which hit aircraft hangars and senior officers’ accommodation before dawn, at about 0300 am.

Whatever the cause of his death, General Al-Shalaan had not been in post long – having been appointed by royal decree on 14 May 2014 to replace Lieutenant General Fayyadh bin Hamed bin Ragad Al-Ruwaili, who was promoted to become Deputy Chief of the Saudi General Staff. General Al-Ruwaili also served for only a year as RSAF Commander, replacing Lieutenant General Mohamed bin Abdullah Al-Ayesh, who was ordered into retirement by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in May 2013. This was interpreted as a dismissal in some quarters, though other sources suggested that Al-Ayesh was then suffering from terminal cancer.
He made something of a recovery – becoming assistant defense minister in May 2014.


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