The assassination in the heart of Tehran of Abu Mohammed al-Masri, number 2 of Al-Qaeda, on August 7, the anniversary of the attacks against the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, in which Washington accuses him of having played a role, has still not been claimed. Nor has it been commented on by the terrorist group.
He was reportedly shot dead in Iran, during a secret mission commissioned by Washington and carried out by Israeli agents. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, alias Abou Mohammed al-Masri, number 2 of Al Qaeda, was assassinated on August 7 in Tehran, the Iranian capital, revealed the American daily The New York Times Friday, November 13.
His daughter Miriam, widow of one of Osama bin Laden’s sons, who accompanied him, was also killed in the operation, according to information provided by US intelligence officials. An announcement, filled with gray areas, denied by the Iranian authorities, not commented on by the American administration or by the Israeli government. Radio silence on the side of Al-Qaeda as well.
This Egyptian national was considered to be one of the main leading cadres of the terrorist nebula led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, successor of Osama bin Laden, himself the target of rumors of his death.
“Abu Mohammed al-Masri was a character who occupied a very important position in the high command of Al-Qaeda, underlines Wassim Nasr, journalist at France 24 and specialist in jihadist movements. This lieutenant of al-Zawahiri belonged to the Egyptian fringe of al-Qaeda, the most influential of the group since the elimination of Bin Laden. “
Killed on the anniversary of the 1998 attacks
But he was best known because of his indictment in the United States for his alleged role in the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, with a toll of 224 victims and 4,000 injured.
These simultaneous car bomb attacks in two African capitals, an unprecedented modus operandi in sub-Saharan Africa, marked the first major appearance of Al-Qaeda, then unknown to the general public, before September 11, 2001.
“The date of the assassination of Abu Mohammed al-Masri, August 7, is far from trivial, since it is the anniversary of these attacks, and there is little room for chance in this kind of operation “, notes Wassim Nasr.
Priority target of Washington, still on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, who promises a $ 10 million reward for any information leading to his capture. So how to explain all the gray areas around this case? Donald Trump, in the midst of an election campaign, would it not have been in the media to publicize the elimination of Al-Qaeda’s number two?
“The Americans cannot afford to announce that they have commissioned the Israelis to carry out an operation in the heart of the Iranian capital, especially since the daughter of Abu Mohammed al-Masri was killed during the “operation. Was it also the justified target of a targeted assassination? Many parameters prevent the official recognition of this operation for the moment”, estimates Wassim Nasr.
And to add: “We must wait for the confirmation of Al-Qaeda, because the Iranians will not confirm anything either, and this, in order not to publicly recognize what is nevertheless an open secret, namely that a part al-Qaeda commanders took refuge in their territory after fleeing Afghanistan. “
In reaction to the New York Times article, the Islamic Republic contented itself with denouncing “fabricated information”, not without denying the presence on its soil of members of the jihadist group.
“There had already been rumors for several weeks, especially in heated discussions on jihadist networks in which Al-Qaeda was accused of hiding the death of Abu Mohammed al-Masri for multiple reasons. One was not to embarrass Tehran and the other not to embarrass herself with open recognition of the presence of part of her command in Iran, “said Wassim Nasr.
“The diplomats deal”
The specialist in jihadist movements explains that the Iranian authorities maintain complex relations with Al-Qaeda. Tehran has occasionally shared common interests with the terrorist organization, in particular since the arrival of American troops in Afghanistan. This presence pushed executives of the group, including Abu Mohammed al-Masri, like the family of Bin Laden, to take refuge in Iran where they felt unattainable.
“Even though relations were not confrontational at the time between Iran and Al-Qaeda, before the situation escalated in Iraq in the mid-2000s, it should not be believed that they were greeted in open arms. On the contrary, they were placed in detention, then under house arrest, he continues. They represented cards in the hand of the Islamic Republic, with a strong cash value at the regional and even international level. “
Wassim Nasr recalls the so-called “diplomats deal” affair in 2015, which saw Tehran grant more freedoms to five Al-Qaeda executives present in Iran, including Abu Mohammed al-Masri, in exchange for the release of an Iranian diplomat and his companions taken hostage by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in Yemen.
Saif al-Adel, the next leader of Al-Qaeda?
“While some of his acolytes joined the jihadist ranks in Syria, where they were killed elsewhere, Abu Mohammed al-Masri, like the last survivor at present Seif Al-Adel, preferred to stay in Iran , perhaps believing himself to be untouchable. “
Between the death of Abu Mohammed al-Masri, and the rumors around the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the next al-Qaeda leader could be, according to experts, Saif al-Adel. He is said to have acted as a trainer for some of the 9/11 hijackers.
Also a member of the Egyptian fringe of the group, this former soldier, who passed through the ranks of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (JIE) in the 1980s, before reaching Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda, would also be a refugee in Iran. A United Nations report still placed him in Iran in 2018, describing him as one of al-Zawahiri’s main lieutenants.
“Like Abu Mohammed al-Masri, Saif al-Adel had the choice to leave Iran, but he did not do so, although it is unknown whether there is a ban on leaving Iranian territory , says Wassim Nasr. He is to date the group’s most senior executive behind Ayman al-Zawahiri. ” And therefore potentially the next target of a covert operation?