Abu Muhammad al-Masri, the No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda was killed in Iran last summer, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed on Tuesday, though he
Abu Muhammad al-Masri, the No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda was killed in Iran last summer, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed on Tuesday, though he did not say if the U.S. ordered his assassination or had a role in carrying it out.
“Today, I can confirm for the fist time his death on August 7th of last year,” Pompeo said in remarks at the National Press Club.
The New York Times reported in November that al-Masri was “gunned down” in Tehran by Israeli agents at the behest of the United States.
Pompeo noted that al-Masri was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for his role in the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. “More than 200 people, including 12 Americans, lost their lives in those attacks,” Pompeo recalled in his remarks.
Pompeo confirmed al-Masri’s death in a broader speech aimed at casting Iran as the new home base for al-Qaeda. His provocative remarks, which were light on specifics, come just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office with promises to revive U.S.-Iran diplomacy.
Pompeo and other Trump administration allies have made it clear they oppose Biden’s plans to return to nuclear negotiations with Iran. Pompeo’s speech on Tuesday complicate Biden’s hopes for fresh talks with Iran..
“Iran decided to allow al-Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al-Qaeda operatives inside abide by the regime’s rules governing al-Qaeda’s stay inside the country,” Pompeo asserted.
He said Iran’s ministry of intelligence and security and other agencies have provided “safe havens and logistical support,” such as ID cards and passports, that enable al-Qaeda activity. “As a result of this assistance, Al-Qaeda has centralized its leadership inside Tehran,” he said.
Iran experts cast doubt on Pompeo’s allegations.
Trita Parsi, an Iran expert and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said that the claims amounted to “complete nonsense” and questioned why Pompeo waited until the waning days of the Trump administration to announce such potentially explosive allegations.
“It’s just not believable at this point,” he said. “This is an administration that is doing everything it can to create conflict inside of the U.S. and now it’s doing everything it can to make sure that no diplomacy can take place between the U.S. and Iran after it leaves.”
Alireza Miryousefi, an Iranian diplomat attached to Tehran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, described the State Department’s claims as “preposterous,” “false” and “nothing new.”
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, also questioned Pompeo’s motives in making Tuesday’s speech.
“It’s just more of an effort to justify a failed policy toward Iran under the Trump administration. What more mud can they possibly throw?” Slavin said.
Slavin said that if Iran is cooperating with al-Qaeda, it probably isn’t for the reasons described by Pompeo. It’s just as likely that Tehran is positioning itself for new diplomacy over the nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018.
Biden has promised to try to revive that deal, aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program.