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Al-Qaeda’s number 2 leader reportedly killed in secret operation in Iran

Al-Qaeda’s second-highest leader, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. (FBI/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Al-Qaeda’s second-highest leader, accused of orchestrating the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed by Israeli agents in Iran in August, The New York Times reported.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, aka Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle on the streets of Tehran on August 7,The New York Times reported on November 13.

Masri was seen as a likely successor to Al-Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Citing intelligence officials, The New York Times said Israeli operatives carried out the assassination at the behest of the United States.

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Iran’s Foreign Ministry “strongly” denied the report and said there were no Al-Qaeda “terrorists” on Iranian soil.

“From time to time, Washington and Tel Aviv try to tie Iran to such groups by lying and leaking false information to the media in order to avoid responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on November 14, just a few hours after The New York Times story was published.

The United States had been tracking the movements of Masri and other Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, but it was unclear what, if any, role Washington played in the operation, The Times reported.

Neither Iran, Al-Qaeda, the United States, nor Israel have ever publicly acknowledged the killing.

Masri was killed with his daughter, the widow of former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Laden, The Times reported.

Shi’ite Iran and Al-Qaeda, a militant Sunni extremist group, are enemies with opposing ideologies. U.S. intelligence officials say Masri had been in Iran’s custody since 2003 but had been living freely since at least 2015.

Some terrorism experts have speculated Iran has kept a few Al-Qaeda figures as an insurance to dissuade the group from carrying out attacks in Iran or for prisoner exchanges. The group may also be a useful card against the United States, a common enemy.

Iranian officials have denied providing Al-Qaeda sanctuary or support.

The Egyptian born Masri, one of Al-Qaeda’s founding leaders, was on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

The bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 left 224 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.