Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported, citing intelligence officials.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle in the streets of Tehran on Aug. 7, the Times reported on Friday.
The killing of Masri, who was seen as a likely successor to al-Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was kept secret until now, the newspaper said.
It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. US authorities had been tracking Masri and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, it said.
Al-Qaeda has not announced his death, Iranian officials have covered it up and no government has publicly claimed responsibility, the Times said.
Iran on Saturday denied the report, saying there were no al-Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil.
A US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, declined to confirm any details of the Times story or say whether there was any US involvement. The White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment.
Israel has said in the past that its intelligence services have managed to penetrate Iran in recent years, including saying in 2018 that it had smuggled out an alleged archive of Iranian nuclear secrets.
Masri, one of al-Qaeda’s founding leaders, was killed along with his daughter. She was the widow of former al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Laden, the Times reported.
Masri had been in Iran’s “custody” since 2003 but had been living freely in an upscale suburb of Tehran since 2015, the Times cited unnamed US intelligence officials as saying.
US counterterrorism officials believe Iran may have let him live there to conduct operations against US targets, the Times said.