Al Qaeda’s Abu Muhammad al-Masri secretly murdered in Iran

WASHINGTON – Al-Qaeda’s second-largest leader, accused of being one of the masterminds of the 1998 deadly attacks on US embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran three months ago, intelligence officials have confirmed.

Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, visited by nominee de Guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down by two assassins on the streets of Tehran, on 7 August, on the anniversary of the embassy attacks. He was killed with daughter Maryam, widow of Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden.

According to four officials, the attack was carried out by Israeli operatives at the behest of the United States. It is unclear if any role was played by the United States, which had been tracking the movements of Mr. al-Masri and other Qaeda factions in Iran for years.

The killing took place in such a natworld of geopolitical intrigue and militancy that Mr. Al-Masri’s death was rumored, but never confirmed until now. For reasons that are still unclear, Al Qaeda has not announced the death of one of its top leaders, Iranian authorities have covered it, and no country has publicly claimed responsibility for it is.

Mr. Al-Masri, who was about 58 years old, was one of the founding leaders of Al Qaeda and was believed to be the first in line to lead the organization after its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Long included in the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, he was held in the United States for crimes related to the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring hundreds. The FBI offered a $ 10 million reward for notifying her of the capture, and as of Friday, His photo was still on the Most Wanted list.

He was living in Iran, it was amazing, given that Iran and Al Qaeda are bitter enemies. Iran, a Shia Muslim theology, and Al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim jihadist group, have fought each other on the battlefields of Iraq and elsewhere.

US intelligence officials say Mr al-Masri had been in Iran’s “custody” since 2003, but had been living independently since at least 2015 in the Pasadan district of Tehran, a suburban suburb.

One summer night, at around 9:00 pm, he was driving his white Renault L90 sedan with his daughter near his home when two gunmen on a motorcycle swung next to him. Five bullets were fired from pistols equipped with silencers. Four bullets entered the car from the driver’s side and a fifth hit the nearby car.

As news of the shooting broke out, Iran’s state-run news media identified the victims as Habib Daud, a Lebanese history professor and his 27-year-old daughter, Maryam. Social media accounts associated with Lebanese news channel MTV and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps reported that Mr. Doud was a member of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist organization in Lebanon.

It seemed admirable.

Murder took place in mid-summer Continuous explosion in Iran, Growing tensions with the United States, The day after a huge Explosion in the port of Beirut And a week before the UN Security Council was to consider increasing the stockpile of weapons against Iran. There was speculation that the murder could be a Western provocative event intended to elicit a violent Iranian response from earlier Security Council vote.

And the assassination targeted by two gunmen on a motorcycle fits the modalities of previous Israeli assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel would kill an Hezbollah officer committed to fighting Israel, it also makes sense, except for the fact that Israel was deliberately avoiding killing Hezbollah Not to provoke a war.

In fact, there was no Habib Dawood.

Many Lebanese who have close ties with Iran said they had not heard of him or his assassination. A search by the Lebanese news media found that there was no report of a Lebanese history professor killed in Iran last summer. And an education researcher with access to lists of all history professors in the country said that there was no record of Habib Daud.

One of the intelligence officers said that Habib Daud aka the Iranian authorities had given Mr. al-Masri and the history teaching work was a cover story. In October, the former Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader, Nabil Naeem, who called Mr. al-Masri a longtime friend, told the same to Saudi news channel Al Arabiya.

Iran may have had good reason to conceal the fact that it was facing an enemy, but it was not clear why the Iranian authorities would have taken a larger leader to begin with.

Some counterterrorism experts suggested that keeping inmates in Tehran could provide some insurance that the group would not operate inside Iran. American counter-terrorism officials believe that Iran would have allowed them to campaign against the United States, a general adversary.

This will not be the first time Iran has supported Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Taliban along with Sunni militants.

Colin P., an anti-terrorism analyst at the Soufan Center. “Iran uses sectarianism when it is friendly to the regime, but wishes to ignore Sunni-Shia partition,” Clarke said.

Iran has consistently refused to provide housing to inmates. In 2018, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said that due to Iran’s long, porous border with Afghanistan, some of the incarcerated members had entered Iran, but were detained and returned to their homes.

Western intelligence officials, however, said that the Qaeda leaders were under house arrest by the Iranian government, which then signed at least two deals with al Qaeda in 2011 and freed some of them in 2015.

Although Al Qaeda has lagged behind in recent years with the rise of the Islamic State, It remains flexible And active partners around the world, United Nations Anti-Terrorism Report Released in July.

Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment for the article. A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Trump Administration’s National Security Council declined to comment.

Mr. al-Masri was a longtime member of al-Qaeda’s highly secretive management council along with Saif al-Adal, which was also held in Iran at one time. The pairing with Hamza bin Laden, who were being groomed to take over the organization, were part of a group of senior Qaeda leaders who were forced to seek asylum in Iran after the 9/11 attack on the United States And forced them to flee to Afghanistan.

According to a high-grade document produced by the US National Anti-Terrorism Center in 2008, Mr. Al-Masri was “the most experienced and capable operational planner not in the United States or allied custody.” The document described him as a “former head of training” who “worked closely” with Mr al-Adal.

According to counterterrorism experts, Mr. al-Masri referred to Hamza bin Laden in Iran. Hamza bin Laden later married Mr Al-Masri’s daughter Maryam.

Credit …Central Intelligence Agency

Ali Sufyan, a former FBI agent and prison expert, wrote, “The marriage of Hamza bin Ladin was by no means the only dynastic affair forged in captivity.” 2019 article For the West Point Combating Terrorism Center.

One of Mr. Al-Masri’s daughters married Abu al-Khair al-Masri, no relation, a member of the management council. He was given permission to leave Iran in 2015 and was killed by an American drone strike in Syria in 2017. At that time, he was the second-highest ranking officer after Mr. Zawahri.

Hamza and other members of the bin Laden family were freed by Iran in 2011 in exchange for an Iranian diplomat abducted in Pakistan. Last year, the White House said Hamza bin Laden was killed In counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Abu Muhammad al-Masri was born in 1963 in the district of Al Zabariya, Northern Egypt. In his youth, he was a professional footballer in Egypt’s top league, according to affidavits filed in lawsuits in the United States. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, he became involved in the jihadist movement that was mobilized to assist Afghan forces.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet 10 years later, Egypt refused to allow Mr. al-Masri to return. He lived in Afghanistan, where he eventually joined the group of bin Laden which later became the founding center of al Qaeda. He was listed by the group as the seventh of its 170 founders.

In the early 1990s, he traveled with bin Laden to Khartoum, Sudan, where he began forming military cells. He also went to Somalia to assist the loyalist of the militia to assist Somali Sardar Mohammad Farah. There he trained Somali guerrillas in the use of shoulder-borne rocket launchers against helicopters, to shoot a pair of American helicopters in the 1993 War of Mogadishu, now known as the Black Hawk Down attack. Used.

“When al Qaeda began carrying out terrorist activities in the late 1990s, al-Masri was one of bin Laden’s three closest associates serving as head of the organization’s operations section,” Yoram Schweitzer Said, head of the terrorism project National Institute of Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “He brought with him the know-how and determination and has since been involved in a large part of the organization’s operations with the emphasis of Africa.”

Soon after the Mogadishu fight, bin Laden placed Mr. al-Masri as the charge of planning operations against American bases in Africa. Considering a dramatic, ambitious operation, such as the 9/11 attacks, which would attract international attention, they decided to simultaneously attack two relatively well-defended targets in different countries.

On August 7, 1998, shortly after 10:30 am, two trucks loaded with explosives were parked in front of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Explosions burned nearby people, closed buildings and broke glass for nearby blocks.

In 2000, Mr. Al-Masri became one of the nine members of the Al Qaeda Governing Council and led the organization’s military training.

He continued to oversee the operations in Africa and ordered an attack in Mombasa, Kenya in 2002, killing 13 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists, according to a former Israeli intelligence official.

By 2003, Mr. al-Masri was one of the many incarcerated leaders who fled to Iran, although hostility to the group was beyond American reach.

“He believed it would be very difficult for the United States to take action against him,” Mr. Schweitzer said. “Also because they believed that the Iranian regime would likely make an exchange deal with the Americans that would include their heads. They were too thin.”

Mr. Al-Masri was one of the few high-ranking members of the organization to avoid American hunting for 9/11 criminals and other attacks. When he and other incarcerated leaders fled to Iran, he was initially placed under house arrest.

In 2015, Iran announced an agreement with al Qaeda, in which it released five leaders of the organization, including Mr. al-Masri, in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped in Yemen.

Mr. Abdullah’s footprints went away, but according to one of the intelligence officers, he continued to live in Tehran under the patronage of the Revolutionary Guard and later the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. They were allowed to travel abroad and mainly to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.

Some US analysts said the death of Mr al-Masri would break the connection between the last-generation Qaeda leaders and the current generation of Islamist militants who grew up after the 2011 death of Laden.

“If this is true, it cuts ties between old-school al Qaeda and modern jihad,” Nicholas J. Rasmussen, is a former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center. “It further contributes to the fragmentation and decentralization of the Al Qaeda movement.”

Adam Goldman and Eric Schmidt from Washington, Fernaz Fasihi from New York and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv reported. Hveda Saad from Washington to Beirut and Julian E. Contributed to Barnes’ reporting.

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