August 2, 2005

Saudi King Fahd buried in simple Riyadh grave

By Dominic Evans and Laith Abou-Ragheb

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Fahd was buried in a
simple unmarked grave on Tuesday after a brief funeral to mourn
the monarch who ruled the oil superpower for more than two
turbulent decades.

In keeping with the kingdom's austere Islamic tradition
Fahd, who in life enjoyed enormous wealth and privilege, was
laid to rest in a sprawling Riyadh cemetery alongside hundreds
of other unidentified dirt graves.

Fahd died on Monday after 23 years ruling the strategic
Gulf state which is both the world's biggest oil exporter and
the cradle of Islam -- drawing more than a billion faithful to
turn five times a day toward Mecca in prayer.

In the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in the capital,
Muslim leaders from across the world joined ordinary Saudis to
offer condolences to Fahd's successor and half-brother
Abdullah, and performed Muslim prayers for the dead.

The brief afternoon ceremony was devoid of pomp. Fahd's
body, wrapped in a brown shroud and laid on a bier, was carried
out of the mosque and driven to his final resting place in an

Hundreds of security forces mixed with mourners in the
mosque and snipers were posted around the cemetery. A wave of
attacks by supporters of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had
clouded Fahd's final, ailing years after his stroke in 1995.

An official said security forces were taking the same
precautions "that any other government would take to secure a
huge event like this with very high-profile guests."

Fahd's reign was marked by several regional wars, wild
fluctuations in oil prices and a crisis in relations with Saudi
Arabia's key ally, the United States, after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks carried out by mainly Saudi suicide hijackers.

Abdullah has run day-to-day affairs since Fahd's stroke and
is expected to maintain Saudi Arabia's commitment to stable oil
markets and its close alliance with the West.


Unlike many Muslim states, Saudi Arabia has set no mourning
period, in keeping with Wahhabi acceptance of God's will
without question. Saudi flags, emblazoned with the proclamation
of faith "There is no God but Allah," flew at full mast.

Shops and businesses opened as usual in the capital on
Tuesday, though the mood among ordinary Saudis was subdued.

Ordinary Saudis gathered at the funeral with leaders
including Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Syria's
Bashar al-Assad and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai.

"He was a great man, a leader of the Muslim nation. I've
come here to pay my respects," said Saleh Khalifa, a
50-year-old resident of Riyadh as he entered the mosque.

"He was a great king, may God have mercy on him," said
wheelchair-bound Pakistani Liqat Ali, crying as he pushed
himself purposefully toward the funeral.

Western leaders and dignitaries, including Britain's Prince
Charles, were due to arrive later to offer condolences after
the funeral service and burial. Some are expected on Wednesday.

President Bush, whose father had close ties with Fahd, will
send Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials to offer
condolences. Former president George Bush sent half a million
U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia in 1990 to launch the recapture of
Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.

Fahd, aged about 83, had been in hospital since May 27,
when he was admitted with acute pneumonia. He ascended the
throne in 1982, at the height of the Saudi petrodollar boom,
with a reputation as an administrator and international

Saudis will pledge allegiance to Abdullah and new Crown
Prince Sultan, who are both aged over 80, on Wednesday.

Analysts say Abdullah's toughest challenges will be to
implement political reforms and keep up the fight against al
Qaeda, which has waged a violent two-year-old campaign aimed at
toppling the Saudi royal family.

Bin Laden has vowed to depose the Saudi royals, whom he has
blasted as U.S. "agents and stooges."

U.S. crude oil jumped after Fahd's death but Saudi
officials said the kingdom would stand by its long-standing
policy aimed at pumping enough oil to satisfy markets and
stabilize prices.

Abdullah, the fifth son of Saudi Arabia's founder King
Abdul-Aziz to ascend the throne, is a cautious reformer who has
overseen modest economic and political liberalization.