Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the bombings of two US embassies in Africa in 1998, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli agents acting on behalf of the United States, the New York Times reported on Friday. intelligence officers.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who resigned from nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle on the streets of Tehran on August 7, the Times reported.
The killing of Masri, who was seen as a likely successor to al-Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been kept secret until now, the newspaper said.
It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in killing the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. The US authorities had been tracking down Masri and other al-Qaeda agents in Iran for several years, it said.
Al Qaeda has not announced its death, Iranian officials have covered it and no government has publicly claimed responsibility, the Times said.
Iran denied the report on Saturday, saying there were no al-Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement that the United States and Israel sometimes “try to link Iran to such groups by lying and leaking false information to the media to avoid responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region”.
The administration of US President Donald Trump’s “scary tactics against Iran has become routine,” Khatibzadeh said.
A US official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, refused to confirm all the details of the Times’ story or to say if there was any US involvement. The White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Masri, one of al-Qaida’s founding leaders, was killed along with his daughter, the widow of former al-Qaida’s boss Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Laden, the Times reported.
Osama bin Laden orchestrated the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and was killed in a US raid on Pakistan in 2011.
Shia Muslim Iran and al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim militant organization, have long been enemies.
Masri had been in Iran’s “detention” since 2003 but had lived freely in an exclusive suburb of Tehran since 2015, the Times quoted unnamed US intelligence officials as saying.
US terrorists believe that Iran, also an American enemy, may have let him live there to carry out operations against US targets, the Times said.
The immediate impact of Masri’s death on al Qaeda’s operations was not immediately known. Although it has lost leading leaders for almost two decades since the attacks on New York and Washington, it has maintained active affiliates from the Middle East to Afghanistan to West Africa.