Abu Muhammad al-Masri probably never saw it coming.
According to the New York Times, he is reported to have been driving his white Renault L90 sedan at around 9 pm on August 7 on a quiet Tehran street, when two gunmen pulled up to the car on a motorbike and fired five shots from a pistol fitted with a silencer.
Four of the bullets went into the car, killing al-Masri and his daughter Miriam, who was also the widow of Osama Bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden.
By no coincidence, it was 22 years to the day after al-Qaeda’s second in command masterminded devastating attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured thousands more.
It’s believed that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down by Kidon, a unit within the secretive Israeli Mossad, who were working on the behest of US officials, the Times reported.
In Hebrew, Kidon means bayonet or “tip of the spear.”
Yet as of Friday, he was still listed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list with a US$10 million bounty on his head as neither the US, Iran or Israel have publicly acknowledged his death, despite it being rumored.
Sources said that Maryam was also a target of the operation. The US believed she was being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda and intelligence suggested she was involved in operational planning.
Al-Masri’s death had remained a secret until now, the Times said.
In fact, in reports of the shooting in Iran’s official news media, the victims were named as Habib Daoud, a Lebanese history professor, and his 27-year-old daughter Maryam.
The Times reports that Daoud does not exist and was an alias used by Iran intelligence officials who may have wished to cover up the fact that the al-Qaeda leader, an enemy of the state, was being harbored in the country.
In response, Iran said Saturday that the Times report was based on “made-up information” and denied the presence of any of the group’s members.
Al Masri, 58, was considered first in line to take over al-Qaeda, after its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, The Times reported.
The terrorist leader had been indicted in the US over the bombing of its African embassies in the 90s and had featured on the FBI’s most wanted list for a long time, The Times reported.
He also allegedly ordered an attack in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002 that killed 13 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists.
In 2008, the US National Counterterrorism Center described him as the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in US or allied custody” as well as the “former chief of training.”
He is one of the few high-ranking members of the organization to survive the US hunt following the 9/11 attack but was taken into custody in Iran in 2003, The Times reported.
Yet, he had been living in the upscale Pasdaran district of Tehran since at least 2015, according to the Times, after being released in a deal. The deal led to the release of five al-Qaeda leaders in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who had been abducted in Yemen.
While he was monitored by Iranian intelligence, it is surprising that al Masri was allowed to remain in the country and to travel so freely to the likes of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
According to Special Ops Magazine, Kidon hit teams usually consist of four man/woman cells operating deep in denied, occupied, hostile territory often for long periods of time, anywhere from months to years.
Also, they have been known to commit assassinations/intelligence gathering in friendly foreign countries.
Kidon was founded with the sole objective of assassinations on high-value targets, and very little is known about how they operate. It is estimated that there are fewer than 75 operatives.
Most recently their presence (as well as the CIA’s) in Iran has been considerably effective in stunting the growth of the current Iranian nuclear programs and particularly lethal for nuclear scientists working for the state.
(Sources: The New York Times, The Daily Mail, The Independent, FBI, Associated Press, Special Ops Magazine)