Al Qaeda’s second in command Abu Muhammad al-Masri was secretly shot dead in Tehran on August 7, according to reports
Al Qaeda’s second in command was allegedly shot dead alongside his daughter in Iran in August, 22 years to the day after he masterminded devastating attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured thousands more.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down in Tehran in August 7 by Israeli agents who were working on the behest of U.S. officials, according to the New York Times.
Yet as of Friday, he was still listed on the F.B.I.’s most wanted terrorist list with a $10million bounty on his head as neither the U.S., Iran or Israel have publicly acknowledged his death, despite it being rumored.
It is not yet clear what role the U.S. may have played in his death but they are known to have been tracking his movements, and those of other al Qaeda leaders in Iran, for years.
His death had remained a secret until now, the Times said.
In fact, in reports of the shooting in Iran’s official news media, the victims were named as Habib Daoud, a Lebanese history professor, and his 27-year-old daughter Maryam.
The wreckage in Nairobi on August 9, 1998, following a bombing near the US Embassy in which 158 people died and 4,824 were injured. Al-Masri was indicted as the mastermind of the attack
Bodies lay around amid the devastation brought in by a bomb explosion near the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998. A second bomb hit the embassy in Tanzania
The Times reports that Daoud does not exist and was an alias used by Iran intelligence officials who may have wished to cover up the fact that the Al Qaeda leader, an enemy of the state, was being harbored in the country.
al-Masri, 58, is reported to have been driving his white Renault L90 sedan at around 9pm on August 7 when two gunmen pulled up to the car and fired five shots from a pistol fitted with a silencer.
The Times states that four of the bullets went into the car, killing al-Masri and his daughter Miriam, who was also the widow of Osama Bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden.
No country has claimed responsibility and Al Qaeda has not announced his death.
al Masri was considered first in line to take over Al Qaeda, after its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri. He was listed as seventh among the organization’s 170 founders.
The terrorist leader had been indicted in the U.S. over the bombing of its African embassies in the 90s and had featured on the F.B.I.’s most wanted list for a long time.
He also allegedly ordered an attack in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002 that killed 13 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists.
In 2008, the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center described him as the ‘most experienced and capable operational planner not in U.S. or allied custody’ as well as the ‘former chief of training’.
al Masri was a longtime member Al Qaeda’s highly secretive management council and fled to Iran following the organization’s 9/11 attack.
‘They believed the United States would find it very difficult to act against them there,’ said Yoram Schweitzer, head of the Terrorism Project of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
‘Also because they believed that the chances of the Iranian regime doing an exchange deal with the Americans that would include their heads were very slim.’
The FBI still had al-Masri listed on their Most Wanted Terrorist list as of Friday
He is one of the few high-ranking members of the organization to survive the U.S. hunt following the 9/11 attack but was taken into custody in Iran in 2003.
Yet, he had been living in the upscale Pasdaran district of Tehran since at least 2015, according to the Times, after being released in a deal. The deal led to the release of five Al Qaeda leaders in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who had been abducted in Yemen.
While he was monitored by Iranian intelligence, it is surprising that al Masri was allowed to remain in the country and to travel so freely to the likes of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
Al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim jihadist group, is an enemy of Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy.
It may have fed into the reasons why Iran went to great lengths to cover up his killing with the Daoud alias.
‘Daoud’ was reported by Lebanese news channel MTV and social media accounts affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to have been a member of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant organization in Lebanon.
This led to speculation that the assassination may have been a Western tactic to spark Iranian anger the week before the United Nations Security Council was to vote extending an arms embargo against the country during the summer.
The history professor having been a member of Hezbollah would also have fit in with the assassination having been carried out by Israeli gunmen.
While Israel had been consciously avoiding killing Hezbollah members so as not to provoke violence, the group does actively fight against Israel.
Yet it emerged that Daoud simply didn’t exist, the Times, states. There were no Lebanese news reports of his death and there was no record of him as a professor.
One intelligence official told the paper that it had been a cover for al-Masri and the terrorist leader’s long-time friend, the former leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, Nabil Naeem, confirmed the same to Saudi news channel Al Arabiya.
It is not fully understood why al-Masri was allowed to remain living in Iran following his release but some experts told the Times that it may have been for insurance reasons, so the group would not organize within Iran.
Al Masri mentored Osama Bin Laden’s son Hamza who would marry his daughter. He was killed by the U.S.
However, U.S. sources said that it may have been to work together in operating against the U.S. who is their common adversary.
‘Iran uses sectarianism as a cudgel when it suits the regime, but is also willing to overlook the Sunni-Shia divide when it suits Iranian interests,’ said Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Center.
The Iranian government has denied that al Qaeda leaders remain living in the country with its Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi in 2018 claiming that if they crossed the border from Afghanistan, they were captured and returned home.
Yet Western intelligence officials believe several reside in the country following deals such as the one that led to al-Masri’s freedom in 2015.
While in Iran, al-Masri is believed to have mentored Hamza bin Laden, who would later marry his daughter.
Another of his daughter’s married Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, a member of the organization’s management council.
Hamza bin Laden and Abu al-Khayr al-Masri were both killed by the U.S.
In his youth, al-Masri had been a professional soccer player in Egypt before joining the jihadist movement in 1979 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
When the Soviets withdrew ten years later, Egypt would not allow him to return and so al Masri remained in Afghanistan where he joined with Bin Laden and became one of the key members in the founding of Al Qaeda.
From the early 90s, his efforts focused on operations in African countries including Somalia, where he trained Somali guerrillas in the use of shoulder-borne rocket launchers against helicopters.
The U.S. helicopter shot down by Somali warlords in 1993 following al-Masri’s training
They used this training to shoot down a pair of American helicopters in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu in what is now known as the Black Hawk Down attack.
‘When Al Qaeda began to carry out terrorist activities in the late 1990s, al-Masri was one of the three of Bin Laden’s closest associates, serving as head of the organization’s operations section,’ said Schweitzer.
‘He brought with him know-how and determination and since then was involved in a large part of the organization’s operations, with an emphasis on Africa.’
Shortly after this, al-Masri was given charge of the embassy attacks, which he launched on August 7, 1998, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
He continued to oversee African operations despite becoming one of the nine members of Al Qaeda’s governing council and heading the organization’s military training from 2000.