KUWAIT CITY -- Sheik Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait who survived an assassination attempt in the 1980s and a decade later escaped Iraqi troops invading his oil-rich Persian Gulf state, died today, state television announced. The sheik, who had been ailing since suffering a brain hemorrhage five years ago, was 79.
Crown Prince Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah, a distant cousin chosen by the emir as his heir apparent in 1978, takes over as ruler of the tiny oil-rich country - a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. He is 75 and has colon problems.
The government announced a 40-day period of mourning and said government offices would be closed for three days beginning today.
Sheik Jaber was a close friend of the United States even before U.S. forces led the fight to liberate his country in 1991. Kuwait served as the major launching point for the U.S.-led invasion 12 years later when American troops drove to Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein.
Kuwait has remained reliant on U.S. forces for defense, and the close alliance is likely to continue under Sheik Saad. The Al Sabah family has ruled Kuwait for more than 250 years.
After a Shiite Muslim extremist tried to assassinate Sheik Jaber in a suicide car bombing in May 1985, the emir abruptly changed his habits. He stopped driving his own car to bustling bazaars and cut down on public appearances. He did not like traveling abroad, though he went for medical treatment.
He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2001 and was treated in London. On the rare occasions since then when he appeared in public, he had difficulty delivering speeches.
Sheik Jaber, born in 1926 before Kuwait became rich exporting oil and educated by private tutors in his father's palace, was considered a father figure to many Kuwaitis who generally were fond and respectful of the emir.
Despite the wealth and well-consolidated family rule, Sheik Jaber was considered a quiet listener who avoided ostentation. His palace in Kuwait City's Dasman neighborhood near the sea was described as a spacious but ordinary house, and bread and yogurt often satisfied him at mealtime.
While in exile in the Saudi resort hotel of Taif, the emir said little and prayed a lot, Ahmed al-Jarrallah, editor of the newspaper Al-Siyassah, wrote. He said the emir was always saying: "I just want a small tent in my country. I don't want palaces or luxury."