Aides to former Jordanian crown prince Hamzah bin Hussein sought pledges of allegiance on his behalf from tribal leaders and former military officers in the weeks before he was detained, conversations caught on telephone intercepts and listening devices suggest.
The recordings are key pieces of evidence in the Jordanian government’s case against two men accused of acting as proxies for Hamzah in a failed attempt to oust his half-brother, King Abdullah II, as monarch.
The two men — Bassem Awadallah, a former envoy to Saudi Arabia, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a cousin of the king — are expected to stand trial in Amman.
Photo: AFP / Jordanian Royal Palace / Yousef Allan
The calls and intercepts took place over three weeks in March, a period in which Hamzah tried to rally support from figures who could elevate what officials describe as a seditious plot into a serious challenge to Abdullah’s reign, officials have said.
The recordings include the Arabic term mubayaa, which implies swearing an oath to a caliph or monarch. The use of such a phrase alarmed intelligence officials who had placed Hamzah and his aides under surveillance, setting in motion a real-life Game of Thrones, which placed at odds two of Jordan’s most senior royals and implicated its two closest allies.
The US had in March warned of the alleged plot in a call to Jordan’s spy agency. At the same time, a report was handed to Abdullah, who had been frozen out of plans by then-US president Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to reshape the Middle East.
The US warning came after Bin Zaid allegedly approached a US diplomat soliciting support for the former crown prince’s ascent to the throne.
By then, intelligence officials had intercepted several calls that appeared to seek loyalty.
One of the calls to a tribal official heard a voice saying: “Our guy has made a decision to move, do you pledge allegiance?”
A secret microphone placed in a meeting of tribal figures in northern Jordan recorded the men present discussing how to organize support for Hamzah.
Meetings of civilians were to be kept to 15 people, while meetings of retired military leaders were limited to seven.
The Jordanian case against Hamzah, who remains under house arrest, is that he sought to move against Abdullah, who removed him from the line of succession in 2004 and installed his son, around the time of a tragedy blamed on negligence at a hospital that killed seven patients in the city of Salt.
“He arrived wearing his father [King Hussein’s] tie,” a senior official said. “There were messages between him and his friends saying: ‘You should not take a photograph with His Majesty.’”
By mid-March, after the warnings had been delivered to the royal court and the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate, officials believe that Hamzah saw a confluence of circumstances — commemorations of a 50-year-old battle with Israel and of a decade-old youth movement, as well as Mother’s Day — as a chance to build momentum.
“At that point Hamzah was asking for advice on how to proceed,” the official said. “He was told: ‘These decisions need well thought-out responses. When it’s time for the full knockout, you will know.’”
“His people told those they had recruited: ‘When he acts, it is to be for the jugular,’” the official said.
Regional sources said that the alleged plot might have been an epilogue to a wider drama in the region over the past four years: Kushner’s attempt to launch his so-called “deal of the century” plan, which ripped up the rulebook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was integral to Kushner’s ambitions.
Awadallah had remained on close terms with Riyadh, and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud flew to Amman the day after he was arrested to seek his release.
Abdullah rigidly opposed the Kushner deal, as a direct threat to the kingdom’s custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem — a key facet of Hashemite legitimacy — and a blow to hopes that Jordan’s significant population of Palestinian refugees might one day be able to return to their own state.
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