Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has died at 90, state TV said early Friday.
He had been in a Riyadh hospital since December suffering from pneumonia.
Abdullah, the force behind OPEC and a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, came to power in 2005 after his half-brother King Fahd died. But he had been the kingdom’s de facto ruler since a stroke incapacitated his brother 10 years earlier.
Abdullah was succeeded by his 79-year-old half-brother, Crown Prince Salman, the royal court said in a statement, Agence France-Press reported. Abdullah’s half-brother Moqren was named crown prince.
The announcement of Abdullah’s death, which came in statement read by a TV presenter, was accompanied by video of worshippers at the Kaaba in Mecca, the Associated Press said.
Before the announcement, a member of the royal family wrote on Twitter that the king “is fine and there is no truth to the rumours going around,” Reuters reported.
President Obama said in a statement it was
“with deep respect that I express my personal condolences and the sympathies of the American people”
to the king’s family and all Saudis.
He noted that the king’s life “spanned from before the birth of modern Saudi Arabia through its emergence as a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations. He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region.”
Obama said he always valued Abdullah’s perspective “and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship. As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. ”
Former President George H. W. Bush said he was
“deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my dear friend and partner King Abdullah.”
He called the monarch
“a wise and reliable ally, helping our nations build on a strategic relationship and enduring friendship.”
“Of course, following the invasion of Kuwait, I will never forget the way Saudi Arabia and the United States stood together against a common foe — marking a moment of unparalleled cooperation between two great nations.”
Abdullah was known for having tried to modernize the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom, including small but important steps to create more opportunities for women. Obama noted that his “vision” was “dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.”
The king had known and dealt with many Americans since 1962, when he was named head of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, an internal security force largely equipped and trained by the United States.
But as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques — his official title — he often pushed back against Washington, earning him a reputation of being less pro-American than his predecessors. Saudi experts said it was undeserved.
“His reputation as anti-American is absolutely untrue,” the late James Akins, a former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, once said.
Years ago, another diplomat said Abdullah reminded him of Spencer Tracy in his gruffness, shrewdness and sense of fun. He enjoys a good story. Saudis call him “Our Abdullah.” Abdullah means “servant of God” in Arabic.
Abdullah was born in Riyadh in 1924, one of the 49 sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. But he was the only son the king fathered with Abdullah’s mother, who was from a Bedouin tribe.
The king’s death leaves Queen Elizabeth II as the world’s oldest living monarch. Next month she hit her 63rd anniversary on the throne, and on Sept. 10 she will pass Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch. Victoria is her great-great grandmother.