Israeli operatives killed Al Qaeda’s No 2 leader in Iran in Aug: NYT

WASHINGTON: 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.

A senior Afghan security source told Reuters in October that Masri, who has long been on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted Terrorists list, had been killed in the Pasdaran area of Tehran. Reuters had been unable to corroborate that information.

It was unclear what, if any, role the US 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.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement that the US and Israel sometimes “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”.

The administration of President Donald Trump's “scare-mongering tactic against Iran has become routine”, Khatibzadeh said.

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.

The Israeli prime minister's office said it was not commenting on the report.

Israel has said in the past that its intelligence services have penetrated Iran in recent years, including saying in 2018 that it had smuggled out an alleged archive of Iranian nuclear secrets. - Reuters