RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Muslim leaders and Saudi princes bade farewell to King Fahd (search) on Tuesday, saying prayers in a packed Riyadh mosque and then burying him in an unmarked desert grave in keeping with the kingdom's austere version of Islam.
Mourners carried brightly colored umbrellas to ward off the punishing sun at the barren al-Oud cemetery, a desert plain with small patches of brush among simple piles of dirt and small uninscribed stones to mark the graves. Snipers kept watch from nearby buildings — a reminder of the heavy security that surrounded the funeral.
The body of Fahd, who died Monday at age 84, was wrapped in his own brown abaya cloak as it was lowered into the grave by members of his family.
Satellite TV stations seen across the Arab world, many of them owned by Saudi businessmen, carried live coverage of the funeral after a day of tributes to Fahd's life.
Earlier, mourners packed the Imam Turki bin Abdullah (search) mosque to say prayers for the man who led this oil-rich country for almost a quarter of a century.
Fahd's body was carried into the mosque on a wooden plank carried by his sons, and placed in the middle of the mosque amid the crowd of thousands, including his successor, King Abdullah. Thousands crowded in the mosque, some with tears in their eyes as the special prayer for the dead began.
The mourners stood, raising their arms and chanting "Allahu akbar," or "God is great" during the two-minute prayer. Afterward, Fahd's body was carried back out to an ambulance for a procession of cars to a Riyadh cemetery where the monarch, wrapped in a white shroud, will be buried in an unmarked grave, in keeping with the kingdom's austere version of Islam.
Non-Muslims were not allowed at the ceremony and it was not considered a state funeral.
Heads of state and delegations from Western nations — including Britain's Prince Charles, French President Jacques Chirac and a U.S. delegation — were expected to arrive later in the day to greet Abdullah. The makeup of the U.S. delegation was not announced.
Among the Arab leaders attending were Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II (search), emirs from Gulf nations, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) and the presidents of Yemen, Tunisia and Lebanon.
Before the prayer for the dead, Abdullah sat in a chair in the mosque, with Saudis and heads of state — including Iraq's Kurdish president and Shiite Muslim prime minister — greeting him. Some kissed Abdullah's right shoulder in a traditional Gulf sign of respect, others kissed his cheeks or shook his hand.
Other Arab and Islamic leaders mingled with the Saudi princes in the mosque, who were decked out in red headdresses, finely pressed white robes, and their best brown and black cloaks, embroidered with gold and doused with perfumes.
Saudis flocked to express their condolences and their allegiance to Abdullah, Fahd's half brother. Abdullah took the throne after Fahd's death in a smooth succession that suggested the sprawling royal family was unified in the need to show stability in the first change in the monarchy in 23 years.
State television showed well-wishers lined up at the palaces of provincial governors across the country to pledge their loyalty to Abdullah, who had been the kingdom's de facto ruler since Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995.
"Saudi Arabia bids farewell to King Fahd on his way to paradise," proclaimed a large front-page headline on the Saudi daily Al-Jazeera. Saudi and pan-Arab newspapers were packed with poems and tributes to the late king and vows of loyalty to Abdullah. Businessmen, government agencies and private individuals took out full page — or even two-page — advertisements with their condolences, with large photos of the late monarch.
Security forces erected multiple checkpoints and locked down the motorcade route from the city center to the airport, where Saudi officials waited in searing summer heat to greet arriving VIPs.
Shops and roads in a 650-foot area around the mosque were closed by police, who used dogs and X-ray devices to check cars.
Saudi Arabia has been on high alert for terror attacks in the past two years amid a violent campaign waged by Islamic militants allied to Saudi dissident and Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, who has vowed to topple the ruling royal family for its close ties to the United States.
"The security apparatus is prepared and has the appropriate experience to ensure security," said Saudi Interior ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki. Security forces have the annual experience of organizing and securing the Hajj pilgrimage, where a number of heads of states participate along with millions of people, he said.
Saudi authorities have struggled to prevent stampedes during the Hajj. Most recently 251 worshippers were killed in a stampede in 2004.
Stability is a major concern for this U.S. ally. Abdullah has taken small steps toward political reform — including elections earlier this year for local councils — but he faces popular pressure for greater change. He also has waged a crackdown on Al Qaeda-linked militant groups after a wave of attacks in May 2003.
"It is a sad day for us but [the loss of Fahd] is a harsh reality that we have to face," said Khaled Saleh, a 30-year-old hotel customer relations manager.
Another Riyadh resident, Abdullah al-Dokry, 30, said he was "worried about the future of our country" and said "more energetic people are needed to take us into the future." Abdullah is 81 and his successor as crown prince, half brother Sultan, is 77.
"These are tough times for us," said al-Dokry.
After the burial, dignitaries and commoners were expected to pay their respects to Abdullah — a chance to honor the new leader of a nation that fuels investment around the Islamic world with its oil wealth and plays a major role in Mideast conflicts, such as violence in Iraq and the Israeli-Arab peace process.
For now, Abdullah's accession smooths over a potential long-term rivalry between him and the circle of Fahd's full brothers known as the Sudairi Seven, after their mother. All are sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, but he had numerous wives.
Under Fahd, the Sudairi Seven dominated some of the government's most powerful posts. While they will stay in their positions, the next generation of royals — Abdul-Aziz's grandsons — are looking for position, with an eye on the still unclear succession in the years ahead when Abdullah and Sultan's aging generation moves aside.
One key post that may be the focus of dealmaking and contention in is the intelligence minister, a powerful position empty since January in which Abdullah may want to install a loyalist.