Iran on Saturday dismissed a US newspaper report that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was killed in Tehran by Israeli agents as “made-up information” and denied the presence of any of the Sunni jihadist group’s members in the Islamic republic.
The New York Times said Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, indicted in the United States for 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest.
The senior Al-Qaeda leader, whose nom de guerre was Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, the Times reported Friday, citing intelligence sources.
The attack took place on August 7 on the anniversary of the Africa bombings, according to the paper.
Iran’s foes, the United States and Israel, “try to shift the responsiblity for the criminal acts of (Al-Qaeda) and other terrorist groups in the region and link Iran to such groups with lies and by leaking made-up information to the media”, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
Khatibzadeh accused the US itself and “its allies in the region” of having created Al-Qaeda through their “wrong policies” and advised US media to “not fall into the trap of American and Zionist officials’ Hollywood scenarios”.
American intelligence officials told the Times that Abdullah had been in Iran’s “custody” since 2003, but he had been living freely in the Pasdaran district of Tehran, an upscale suburb, since at least 2015.
On August 7, he was driving a white Renault L90 sedan with his daughter near his home when two gunmen on a motorbike shot five times at them with a pistol fitted with a silencer, it said.
Iran’s state news IRNA and Mehr news agency at the time reported a similar incident and identified the victims as Habib Dawoud, a 58-year-old Lebanese history teacher, and his daughter Maryam, 27, without giving further details.
They said the “individual on the motorbike shot from the sidewalk and fled” the scene and that police investigations were ongoing. There have since been no updates.
– ‘Most experienced’ planner –
US federal authorities have offered a $10- million reward for information leading to Abdullah’s capture.
He was the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in US or allied custody”, according to a highly classified document provided by the US National Counterterrorism Center in 2008, the Times said.
The bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 left 224 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.
Abdullah was indicted by a US federal grand jury later that year for his role.
Washington accused Shiite Iran of harbouring Al-Qaeda members and allowing them to pass through its territory in 2016, an accusation denied by Tehran officials at the time.
Tehran, which has been subject to several attacks by Sunni extremists, considers Al-Qaeda a “terrorist group” and has taken part in the fight against it, mainly in Syria and Iraq.
“Even though America has not shied away from making any false accusation against Iran in the past, this approach has become routine in the current US administration,” Khatibzadeh said.
He accused President Donald Trump’s administration of pursuing an “Iranophobic” agenda as part of its “all-out economic, intelligence and psychological” war against Tehran.
“The media should not be a loudspeaker for the publication of the White House’s purposeful lies against Iran,” he said.
Since unilaterally abandoning a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major powers in 2018, the Trump administration has reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran as part of a policy of “maximum pressure” against its government.