Israeli operatives gunned down al-Qaeda’s second-in-command on a Tehran street in August at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported on Friday.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was accused of being one of the chief planners of devastating attacks on two US embassies in Africa in 1998.
He was killed on August 7, the anniversary of the attacks, the report said, citing unnamed intelligence officials.
The attacks on 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 and injured 80.
Al-Masri was 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 his daughter, Miriam, who was married to Osama bin Laden’s late son Hamza bin Laden.
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 has denied harboring al-Qaeda members and 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 charged al-Masri with 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.