Wed. Jan 27th, 2021

By MATTHEW LEE and James LaPORTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States and Israel worked together to track down and kill a senior al-Qaeda operative in Iran earlier this year, a bold intelligence operation by two affiliated nations that came in as the Trump administration They were putting pressure on Tehran.

Four current and former US officials said that Abu Mohammed al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s No. 2, was killed by assassins in the Iranian capital in August. The US provided intelligence to the Israelis where they could locate al-Masri and the surname he was using at the time, while according to two officials, Israeli agents carried out the assassination. Two other officials confirmed the killing of al-Masri but could not provide specific details.

Al-Masri was closed in Tehran street on August 7, the 1998 bombing anniversary of the US embassies in Tehrania, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Al-Masri is believed to have participated in the planning of those attacks and was wanted by the FBI on terrorism charges.

Al-Qaeda’s death is a setback for al-Qaeda, which carried out the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, and came amid rumors in the Middle East about the fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the group. Officials could not confirm those reports, but said the US intelligence community was trying to determine their credibility.

Two of the officers – one within the intelligence community and with direct knowledge of the operation and another former CIA official briefed on the case – said al-Masri was killed by Kidon, a unit within the secret Israeli spy organization Mossad He was allegedly responsible for the murder. High value goals. In Hebrew, kidon means sangin or “the tip of a spear.”

Intelligence official said that al-Masri’s daughter Maryam was also the target of the operation. The US believed she was being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda and intelligence suggested that she was involved in the operational plan, according to the official, who, like others, discussed sensitive intelligence Used to speak on condition of anonymity.

Al-Masri’s daughter was the widow of Hamza bin Laden, son of al-Qaeda mastermind Osama Laden. He was killed in an anti-American counter-terrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region last year.

Al-Masri’s death was first reported by The New York Times.

Both the CIA and the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who oversees the Mossad intelligence agency, declined to comment.

Iranian nuclear program Israel and Iran are bitter enemies with Israel’s top security concern. Israel has welcomed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the US pressure campaign on Tehran.

At the time of the killings, the Trump administration was trying to restore all international sanctions on Iran through the United Nations Security Council that were lifted under the nuclear deal. None of the other members of the Security Council went with the US, which has vowed to punish countries that do not impose sanctions on Iran as part of their “maximum pressure” campaign.

Israeli officials are concerned with the impending administration of the presidential election that could return to the Biden nuclear deal. It is likely that if Biden joins with the Iranians, Iran will push for an agreement to modify Iran’s long-range missile program and to address its military activity throughout the region, most notably in Syria and Hezbollah. , Its support for groups such as Hamas. And Islamic Jihad.

The revelations that Iran has given asylum to an al-Qaeda leader may help Israel with the new US administration.

Al-Masri was on a murder or possession list for years. But his presence in Iran, which has a long history of hostility to al-Qaeda, presented significant obstacles to arrest or kill him.

Iran denied the reports, saying the government was not harboring any al-Qaeda leaders and blamed the US and Israel for instigating anti-Iranian sentiment. US officials have long believed that many al-Qaeda leaders have been living quietly in Iran for years and publicly released intelligence assessments have made this the case.

Al-Masri’s death, under an alleged name, was recorded in the Iranian media on 17 August. The report identifies him as a Lebanese history professor who was possibly associated with Lebanese’s Iranian-linked Hezbollah movement, and was said to have been killed with motorcycle gunmen by his daughter.

Lebanese media cited Iranian reports that those killed were Lebanese civilian Habib Daud and his daughter Maryam.

The deaths of al-Masri and his daughter occurred three days after the devastation. There were 4 blasts at the port of Beirut and they did not get much attention. Hezbollah never commented on the reports and Lebanese security officials did not state that any civilians had been killed in Tehran.

A Hezbollah official on Saturday did not comment on al-Masri’s death, saying Iran’s foreign ministry had already denied it.

The alleged murders appear to correspond to a pattern of behavior attributed to Israel in the past.

In 1995, the founder of the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad was assassinated by a gunman on a motorcycle in Malta, with Mossad widely held responsible. Mossad reportedly carried out similar killings of Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran early in the last decade. Iran has accused Israel of being behind those killings.

Joel Guzanski, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former Iranian affairs analyst at the Prime Minister’s Office, said it has been known for some time that Iran has been hiding top al-Qaeda figures. Although he had no direct knowledge of al-Masri’s death, he said that a joint operation between the US and Israel would reflect the close intelligence cooperation of the two countries, with the US generally stronger in the technical aspects of intelligence and Israel operating. The enemy focuses on the agents – across the camp.

LaPorta reported from Delray Beach, Florida, Bassam Maure in Beirut, Qasim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, and Joseph Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This content may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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