Al Qaeda's deputy Abu Muhammad al-Masri (pictured) was secretly shot in Tehran on August 7th. Four current and former US officials confirmed this to AP. Officials said the US worked with Israel to track down and kill al-Masri and his 27-year-old daughter Maryam
The United States and Israel worked together earlier this year to track down and kill a senior al-Qaeda agent in Iran. A courageous intelligence operation by the two allied nations that came when the Trump administration increased pressure on Tehran.
Four current and former US officials said Abu Mohammed al-Masri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, was secretly killed by assassins in the Iranian capital in August, as was his daughter Maryam.
The US provided Israelis with information on where to find al-Masri and the alias he was using at the time while Israeli agents carried out the killing, according to two of the officials. The other two officials confirmed al-Masri's murder but were unable to provide any specific information.
Al-Masri was shot dead in an alley in Tehran on August 7, the anniversary of the 1998 bombings on the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It was widely believed that Al-Masri was involved in planning these attacks and was charged with terrorism by the FBI.
Al-Masri's death is a blow to Al-Qaeda, the terror network that orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and rumors in the Middle East about the fate of group leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Officials could not confirm these reports, but said US intelligence agencies were trying to establish their credibility.
Two of the officers – one within the intelligence community and with direct knowledge of the operation and another former CIA officer who was briefed on the matter – said al-Masri was killed by Kidon, a unit of the secret Israeli espionage organization Mossad, which allegedly responsible for the assassination was from high value targets. In Hebrew, Kidon means bayonet or "tip of the spear".
The intelligence community official said Al-Masri's daughter Maryam was also a target of the operation.
The US believed that she was being prepared for a leadership role in al-Qaeda, and intelligence agencies suggested that she be involved in operational planning, according to the official, who, like the others, talked about sensitive intelligence agencies on condition of anonymity.
Al-Masri's death came exactly 22 years after bombing US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people. Pictured: Nairobi wreck on August 9, 1998 following a bomb attack near the US Embassy that killed 158 people and injured 4,824
The FBI had al-Masri on the list of the most wanted terrorists on Friday
Al-Masri's daughter was the widow of Hamza bin Laden, the son of Al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden. He was killed in a US counter-terrorism campaign in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region last year.
News of al-Masri's death was first reported by the New York Times.
Both the CIA and the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which oversees the Mossad's intelligence service, declined to comment.
Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, with the Iranian nuclear program being Israel's greatest security concern. Israel has welcomed the Trump administration's withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and the US pressure campaign against Tehran.
At the time of the murders, the Trump administration was at an advanced stage in its attempt by the UN Security Council to reinstate all international sanctions against Iran that were lifted under the nuclear deal.
None of the other members of the Security Council joined the US, which has vowed to punish countries that fail to enforce sanctions as part of their "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.
Israeli officials fear the future administration of President-elect Joe Biden may revert to the nuclear deal.
It is likely that if Biden works with the Iranians, Israel will push for the deal to be amended to include Iran's long-range missile program and military activities across the region, particularly Syria, and its support for groups like Hezbollah to tackle Hamas. and Islamic Jihad.
The revelations that Iran is home to an al-Qaeda leader could help Israel strengthen its case with the new US administration.
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
Charred remains of the Paradise Hotel can be seen near Mombasa, Kenya on November 29, 2002. 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
Al-Masri was on a kill or detain list for years, but his presence in Iran, which has a long history of hostility towards al-Qaeda, was a significant barrier to his arrest or killing.
Iran denied the reports on the grounds that the government did not host al-Qaeda leaders and accused the US and Israel of trying to promote anti-Iranian sentiment.
Kidon: Assassin unit in the Israeli Mossad
Two US officials who spoke to AP – one within the intelligence community and with direct knowledge of the operation and another former CIA officer who was briefed on the matter – said Abu Muhammad al-Masri was killed by Kidon, one Unit within the secret Israeli espionage organization Mossad.
In Hebrew, Kidon means bayonet or "tip of the spear".
Kidon is considered to be one of the most elite and dangerous special forces in the world, credited with carrying out a number of high-profile assassination campaigns.
It is unclear when the unit was formed, but experts speculate that it may have been sometime in the 1960s when intelligence activity increased worldwide during the Cold War.
Kidon has an estimated fewer than 75 employees, according to Spec Ops Magazine, which unveiled the little information available about the unit in October 2020.
Kidon is believed to be recruited after showing exemplary record in intelligence or special operations, or both.
Recruits train in the Negev desert in Israel for up to two years before they are officially accepted into Kidon.
US officials have long believed that a number of al-Qaeda leaders have lived quietly in Iran for years, and publicly released intelligence reviews have confirmed this case.
Al-Masri's death was reported in Iranian media on August 8, albeit under a suspected name.
He was reportedly a Lebanese history professor who may be linked to the Iran-affiliated Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and said he was killed by motorcycle gunmen along with his daughter.
Lebanese media quoted Iranian reports, saying those killed were Lebanese citizen Habib Daoud and his daughter Maraym.
Al-Masri and his daughter died three days after the catastrophic explosion on August 4 in the port of Beirut and received little attention.
Hezbollah never commented on reports, and Lebanese security officials did not report that citizens were killed in Tehran.
A Hezbollah official on Saturday did not comment on al-Masri's death, saying the Iranian foreign ministry had already denied it.
The alleged murders appear to fit in with a pattern of behavior attributed to Israel in the past.
In 1995 the founder of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad was killed by an armed man on a motorcycle in Malta in an attack widely attributed to the Mossad.
The Mossad reportedly carried out a series of similar murders of Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran early in the last decade. Iran has accused Israel of being behind these killings.
Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former Iranian affairs analyst in the prime minister's office, said it had been known for some time that Iran was hiding senior al-Qaida figures.
Although he had no direct knowledge of al-Masri's death, he said that a joint US-Israel operation would reflect the two nations' close intelligence-gathering collaboration, with the US usually on the technical aspects of intelligence gathering are stronger and Israel is familiar with operational agents behind enemy lines.
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