Secret Israeli agents have been alleged of killing Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah in Iran on 7 August acting at the behest of the United States.
Abdullah, who used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was a founding leader of al Qaeda and viewed as a likely successor to the Islamist terror group’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both have long been on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
According to the New York Times, which broke the story, Abdullah was shot by two unknown assailants on a motorcycle in Tehran. Also reportedly killed was his daughter, who had been the widow of one of sons of former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, who orchestrated the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States that killed 2,977 people, was assassinated in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in 2011.
Abdullah had been accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
The New York Times cited unnamed intelligence officials for its report, which was published on Friday. It did not specify what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant; who has been tracked by U.S. authorities in Iran for years along with other al Qaeda operatives.
Abdullah / Masri’s death had never been announced by al Qaeda, while it was covered up by Iranian officials and no government has publicly claimed responsibility, the Times said.
Iran immediately dismissed the report and maintained that there are no al Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh issued a statement insisting that the U.S. and Israel “try to tie Iran to such groups by lying and leaking false information to the media in order to avoid responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region,” and that the Trump Administration’s “scare-mongering tactic against Iran has become routine.”
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined to comment on the report, although in the past he claimed the country’s intelligence services have penetrated Iran in recent years. Last year, Netanyahu revealed an alleged archive of Iranian nuclear secrets he said Israeli agents had been smuggled out of the Islamic Republic.
The White House National Security Council has also so far commented on the allegations.
Despite Iran’s denials, the Times cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Abdullah/Masri had been in the “custody” of the Ayatollah regime since 2003 but had been living freely in an upscale suburb of Tehran since 2015. Even though Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni Muslim al Qaeda have long been considered enemies, the counterterrorism officials who spoke to the paper said they believe he may have permitted to live in Iran so he could conduct operations against U.S. targets.
In fact, official Iranian media did report on 8 August that a Lebanese man and his daughter had been killed in the northern Tehran neighborhood of Pasdaran by unknown assailants on motorcycle. The victims were, however, identified as 58-year-old history teacher Habib Dawoud and his daughter Mariam, 27. The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted a Tehran police source as saying the two were in a vehicle and were “shot four times from the driver’s side.”
The report comes just weeks after the elimination of two other senior al Qaeda chiefs. Afghanistan announced that in October local security forces killed Abu Muhsin al-Masri, who had also been on the FBI’s terrorist list; as well as another al Qaeda commander this month.
Even though its leadership has been decimated in the nearly two decades since the attacks on New York and Washington, al Qaeda continues to maintain active affiliates from the Middle East to Afghanistan to West Africa.