Iran said Saturday that a New York Times report that al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was secretly killed in Tehran this summer by Israeli agents was based on “made-up information” and denied the presence of any of the group’s members on Iranian soil.
Iran’s foes, the United States and Israel, “try to shift the responsibility for the criminal acts of [al-Qaeda] and other terrorist groups in the region and link Iran to such groups with lies and by leaking made-up information to the media,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
Khatibzadeh accused the US and “its allies in the region” of having created al-Qaeda through their “wrong policies” and advised US media to “not fall into the trap of American and Zionist officials’ Hollywood scenarios.”
The New York Times reported Friday that Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, indicted in the United States for the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was shot and killed in Tehran in August by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest.
The senior al-Qaeda leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, the Times said, citing intelligence sources.
Washington accused Tehran of harboring al-Qaeda members and of allowing them to pass through its territory in 2016, an accusation denied by Tehran officials at the time.
“Even though America has not shied away from making any false accusation against Iran in the past, this approach has become routine in the current US administration,” Khatibzadeh said.
He accused US President Donald Trump’s administration of pursuing an “Iranophobic” agenda as part of its “all-out economic, intelligence and psychological” war against Tehran.
“The media should not be a loudspeaker for the publication of the White House’s purposeful lies against Iran,” he said.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah was killed on August 7, the anniversary of the African embassy attacks, the New York Times report said, citing unnamed intelligence officials. The bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 224 and injured hundreds more.
A former Israeli intelligence official told the newspaper that Al-Masri is also accused of ordering the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya which killed 13 — including three Israeli tourists — and injured 80.
Al-Masri was reportedly driving his sedan close to his home when two Israeli agents on a motorcycle pulled up alongside his vehicle and fired five shots from a silenced pistol, killing al-Masri and Miriam.
The assassination has not been publicly acknowledged by the US, Israel, Iran or al-Qaeda.
The US was keeping tabs on al-Masri and other members of the terrorist group in Iran for years, but it’s unknown what role the US played in the killing, if any.
Al-Masri was one of the earliest members of al-Qaeda and likely the next to lead the terror group after its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Following the shooting, Iranian media identified the victims as a history professor from Lebanon named Habib Daoud and his daughter, Maryam, the New York Times report said. A Lebanese news outlet and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said the victim was a member of the Hezbollah terrorist group, which is backed by Iran.
Daoud and Maryam did not actually exist, however. One intelligence official, and a former head of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad group, said the persona was an alias Iran provided to al-Masri.
It’s unclear why Iran would harbor al-Masri. Iran is a Shiite state, and has fought with al-Qaeda, a Sunni jihadist organization.
Intelligence officials told the Times that al-Masri was in Iranian “custody” since 2003 and lived in Tehran since at least 2015. While in Tehran, he was protected by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps but allowed to move freely and travel abroad.
Experts told the Times that Iran may hold al-Qaeda members to prevent attacks in Iran, or to allow them to conduct operations against the US.
Iran cooperates with the Gaza-based Sunni terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Iran did not respond to a New York Times request for comment on the article. Israeli and US officials also declined to comment.
Around the time of al-Masri’s killing, a series of mysterious explosions rocked Iran, hitting several sensitive sites, including the Natanz nuclear facility, a power station, a pipeline, and the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.
Iran said in September it had identified those responsible for the sabotage at the Natanz facility, but did not provide further details. Foreign media reports have attributed the explosion, which they said badly damaged an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant, to Israel or the US.
Israeli agents had in past years assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists using shooters on motorcycles, similar to al-Masri’s killing, according to foreign reports.
Al-Masri was from Egypt and around 58-years-old. He fought the Soviets in Afghanistan with jihadist groups, was then barred from returning to Egypt, and joined Bin Laden.
He worked for al-Qaeda in Sudan and Somalia, where he trained militants to use weaponry they then used to shoot down US helicopters in Mogadishu in 1993 in the so-called Black Hawk Down incident. Nineteen American soldiers were killed in the battle with Somali militiamen.
Bin Laden then put al-Masri in charge of plotting attacks against US sites in Africa, leading to the simultaneous bombings of the two US embassies. The FBI had offered a $10 million reward for information on him.
In 2002, he orchestrated an attack in Kenya that killed 13 people — 10 Kenyans and three Israelis — when a car bomb went off at Mombasa’s Paradise Hotel on November 28, 2002, shortly after a large group of Israeli tourists checked into the beachfront resort.
At around the same time, a surface to-air missile targeted but missed an Arkia plane carrying 271 people as it took off from Mombasa airport.