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Phone intercepts shine more light on Jordanian prince’s alleged coup attempt

Aides to the former Jordanian heir Prince Hamzah sought pledges of allegiance on his behalf from tribal leaders and former military officers in the weeks before he was detained, conversations caught on phone 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, as monarch.

Both 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 in coming days.

The calls and intercepts, which have been heard by the Guardian, took place over three weeks in March, a period in which officials say 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.

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 begun surveilling Hamzah and his aides, setting in motion a real-life Game of Thrones, which placed two of Jordan’s most senior royals at odds and implicated its two closest allies.

The Guardian on Wednesday revealed the US had warned of the alleged plot in a call to Jordan’s spy agency in March.

At the same time, a report was handed to Abdullah, who had been frozen out of plans by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to reshape the Middle East during the former US president’s tumultuous four years.

The American 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 bug placed in a meeting of tribal figures in northern Jordan recorded the men present discussing how to organise 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 photo with His Majesty’.”

By mid-March, after the warnings had been delivered to the royal court and Jordan’s general intelligence directorate, officials believe 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.’”

Regional sources said the alleged plot may 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 Mohammed bin Salman was integral to Kushner’s ambitions.

Awadallah had remained on close terms with Riyadh, and the Saudi foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, is understood to have flown 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 may one day be able to return to their own state.

Hamzah is understood to be confined to his home, and was last heard from in leaked videos in April claiming his innocence.

Source: Martin Chulov and Michael Safi – The Guardian