RIYADH // Saudi Arabia named the interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, as its crown prince.
Late on Thursday, Saudi state TV announced the naming of Prince Nayef as heir to the throne following the death of the previous second in line, Crown Prince Sultan, last week.
Prince Nayef would assume the throne upon the death of King Abdullah, 87, who is recovering from his third operation to treat back problems in less than a year.
Prince Sultan died in New York on October 22 at the age of 80. He reportedly had colon cancer. Traditionally, the king chooses his heir. But Prince Nayef was chosen by the Allegiance Council, a 37-member body composed of his brothers and cousins. King Abdullah created the council as part of his reforms and gave it a mandate to choose the heir. Prince Nayef, 78, was also named vice prime minister and will keep his job as interior minister.
The US president, Barack Obama, yesterday congratulated King Abdullah on the selection, noting the new crown prince's counterterrorism record.
"We in the United States know and respect him for his strong commitment to combating terrorism and supporting regional peace and security," Mr Obama said in a statement.
Prince Nayef has earned praise in the West for leading crackdowns on extremist cells in Saudi Arabia, which was home to 15 of 19 of the September 11 hijackers.
He has opposed some of King Abdullah's moves for more openness in the conservative society, saying in 2009 that he saw no need for women to vote or participate in politics. Even so, it seems unlikely that he would he would cancel King Abdullah's reforms if he became king. They include the opening of a coed university in 2009 where both genders can mix, though many religious authorities forbid any mixing of the sexes.
In September last year, Prince Nayef said Saudi Arabia was able to "crush" the ideology of terrorism. The interior ministry forces have arrested 11,527 people since the September 11 attacks for their alleged involvement in terrorism.
The government has suppressed militant activity inspired by Al Qaeda after they staged violent strikes aimed at weakening the royal family's control and breaking the kingdom's relationship with the US.
Prince Nayef is "a highly capable security practitioner that will maintain the security of the Saudi state", Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said.
Tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran will not mitigate "if and when Nayef becomes king", said Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
"There will be a shift in foreign policy priorities that will expand the anti-Iranian front emerging under Saudi Arabia's lead."
* With additional reporting by Bloomberg