Al Qaeda's deputy Abu Muhammad al-Masri was reportedly secretly shot to death in Tehran on August 7th
Al Qaeda's deputy was reportedly shot dead with his daughter in Iran in August, 22 years after he carried out devastating attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring thousands more.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was shot dead in Tehran on August 7 by Israeli agents working on behalf of US officials, according to the New York Times.
However, until Friday he was still on the F.B.I.'s Most Wanted Terrorist List. Listed with a $ 10 million bounty as neither the US, Iran, or Israel have publicly recognized his death, despite rumors.
It is not yet clear what role the US might have played in his death, but it is known that it has followed his movements and those of other al-Qaeda leaders in Iran for years.
His death has remained a secret until now, the Times said.
Reports of the shooting in the official Iranian news media named the victims as Habib Daoud, a Lebanese history professor, and his 27-year-old daughter Maryam.
The Times reports that Daoud does not exist and was a pseudonym used by Iranian intelligence officials who may have tried to cover up the fact that the al-Qaeda leader, an enemy of the state, was housed in the country.
The wreck in Nairobi on August 9, 1998 after a bomb attack near the US embassy, in which 158 people died and 4,824 were injured. Al-Masri was charged as a thought leader in the attack
Corpses lay amid the devastation caused by a bomb explosion near the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya on August 7, 1998. A second bomb hit the embassy in Tanzania
The 58-year-old al-Masri is said to have been driving his white Renault L90 sedan at around 9 p.m. on August 7, when two armed men stopped in front of the car and fired five shots from a pistol equipped with a silencer.
The Times claims 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 taken responsibility and Al Qaeda has not announced its death.
al-Masri was seen as the first 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 charged with bombing his African embassy in the USA in the 1990s and was on the F.B.I.'s 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 US National Counter-Terrorism Center named him the "most experienced and capable operations planner not in US or Allied custody" and as a "former head of training".
al Masri was a long-time member of the top secret board of al Qaeda and fled to Iran after the 9/11 attack.
"They believed that it would be very difficult for the United States to take action against them there," said Yoram Schweitzer, director of the terrorism project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
"Also because they believed that the Iranian regime's chances of signing an exchange treaty with the Americans that would include their heads were very slim."
He is one of the few high-ranking members of the organization who survived the US hunt after the 9/11 attack, but was detained in Iran in 2003.
Still, according to the Times, he had lived in the upscale Pasdaran neighborhood of Tehran since at least 2015 after being released under a contract. The deal resulted in the release of five al-Qaida leaders in exchange for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen.
Rescuers and officials are pictured outside the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, after the 1998 bomb attack that killed more than 150 people
Rescue workers in Nairobi after the embassy attack organized by al Masri in 1998
Pictured, charred remains of the Paradise Hotel on November 29, 2002 near Mombasa, Kenya. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Israeli hotel, killing 16, mostly Kenyans, and wounding dozens more. Al Masri is said to have ordered the attack
While under surveillance by Iranian intelligence, it is surprising that al Masri was allowed to stay in the country and thus travel freely to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
Al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim jihadist group, is an enemy of Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy.
Possibly, this led to the reasons why Iran went to great lengths to cover up its killing using the pseudonym Daoud.
"Daoud" was reported by Lebanese news broadcaster MTV and social media accounts of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a member of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant organization in Lebanon.
This sparked speculation that the attack may have been a Western tactic to spark Iranian anger in the week leading up to the UN Security Council vote to extend an arms embargo on the country in the summer.
The history professor, who was a member of Hezbollah, would have been a match for the attack by the Israeli gunmen.
While Israel deliberately avoided killing Hezbollah members in order not to provoke violence, the group is actively fighting against Israel.
Kenyan Red Cross volunteers carry the bodies of the victims of the bomb explosion at the Paradise Hotel on November 28, 2002 in Mombasa. The attack is said to have been ordered by al Masri
The FBI had al-Masri on the list of the most wanted terrorists on Friday
However, it turned out that Daoud just didn't exist, the Times said. There was no Lebanese news of his death and there was no record of him as a professor.
An intelligence official told the newspaper that it was a cover for al-Masri, and the terrorist leader's longtime friend, former Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Nabil Naeem, confirmed this to the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya.
It is not fully understood why al-Masri was allowed to live in Iran after his release, but some experts told the Times that it may have been for insurance reasons, so the group would not organize in Iran.
Al Masri looked after Osama bin Laden's son Hamza, who was going to marry his daughter. He was killed by the USA.
However, US sources said it could possibly have been working together against the US, who are their common adversary.
"Iran uses sectarianism as a club when it suits the regime, but is also willing to overlook the Sunni-Shiite divide if it suits Iranian interests," said Colin P. Clarke, an anti-terrorist analyst at the Soufan Center .
The Iranian government has denied that al-Qaeda leaders were living in the country with their Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi in 2018, claiming they were captured and brought back home when they crossed the border from Afghanistan.
Still, Western intelligence officials believe that several live in the country under agreements like the one that led to al-Masri's freedom in 2015.
In Iran, al-Masri is said to have looked after Hamza bin Laden, who was later to marry his daughter.
Another of his daughter married Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, a member of the organization's board of directors.
Hamza bin Laden and Abu al-Khayr al-Masri were both killed by the United States.
Al-Masri was a professional footballer in Egypt when he was young, before joining the jihadist movement in 1979 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
When the Soviets withdrew ten years later, Egypt did not allow him to return, and so Al Masri stayed in Afghanistan, where he joined bin Laden and became one of the key members in founding al-Qaeda.
From the early 1990s, his efforts focused on operations in African countries, including Somalia, where he trained Somali guerrillas to use shoulder rocket launchers against helicopters.
The US helicopter was shot down in 1993 by Somali warlords after 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 terrorist activities in the late 1990s, al-Masri was one of bin Laden's three closest associates and headed the organization's operations department," said Schweitzer.
"He brought know-how and determination and has since been involved in much of the organization's business, with a focus on Africa."
Shortly afterwards, al-Masri was tasked with 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 nine members of Al Qaeda’s governing council and from 2000 headed the organization’s military training.