Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah a.k.a. Abu Muhammad al-Masri

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, a.k.a. Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was an Egyptian national who served as the deputy leader of al-Qaeda. Abdullah served on al-Qaeda’s leadership council—the majlis al-shura—and according to a top-secret 2008 document produced by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, was the “former chief of training,” and the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in U.S. custody.”Adam Goldman, “Top al-Qaeda operatives freed in prisoner swap with Iran,” Washington Post, September 18, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/top-al-qaeda-operatives-freed-in-prisoner-swap-with-iran/2015/09/18/02bc58e2-5e0c-11e5-9757-e49273f05f65_story.html. Abdullah was accused of being one of the masterminds of the deadly 1998 attacks on American embassies in Africa in which hundreds of people were killed and thousands more were injured.“Wanted Information that brings to justice…Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah,” Rewards for Justice, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/abdullah_abdullah.html; Adam Goldman, Eric Schmitt, Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman, “Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks, Was Killed in Iran,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/13/world/middleeast/al-masri-abdullah-qaeda-dead.html.

Abdullah, and hundreds of other foreign fighters, were allegedly bankrolled by Osama bin Laden to counter the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. After Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, Egypt blocked the return of Egyptian nationals who fought in the conflict. Abdullah was forced to remain in Afghanistan and by 1988, joined bin Laden’s al-Qaeda al-Askariya (“the military base”).Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/.

In the 1990s, Abdullah allegedly provided military training to al-Qaeda operatives and Somali tribesmen who previously fought against U.S. forces in Mogadishu. Abdullah was eventually named head of al-Qaeda’s East African cells in 1996 while also leading al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan from 1996 until 1998.“Wanted Information that brings to justice…Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah,” Rewards for Justice, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/abdullah_abdullah.html; Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/.

In the spring of 1998, Abdullah and the al-Qaeda military committee, of which Abdullah headed, gave the go-ahead for two coordinated attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa. The day before the attacks were to be carried out, Abdullah fled Nairobi for Karachi, Pakistan.Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/. On August 7,1998, two trucks packed with explosives detonated in front of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed over 224 people and injured more than 4,500 others.Adam Goldman, Eric Schmitt, Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman, “Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks, Was Killed in Iran,” New York Times, November 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/13/world/middleeast/al-masri-abdullah-qaeda-dead.html. Twelve Americans were killed in the attack.“East African Embassy Bombings,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/east-african-embassy-bombings.

In November 1998, Abdullah was indicted and charged by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York for his role in the bombing of the U.S. embassies. Abdullah was charged with murder of U.S. nationals outside the United States; conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals outside the United States; attack on a federal facility resulting in death; conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, to murder, to destroy buildings and property of the United States; and to destroy the national defense utilities of the United States.“ABDULLAH AHMED ABDULLAH,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/wanted_terrorists/abdullah-ahmed-abdullah; “FBI Executive Summary,” PBS, November 18, 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/bombings/summary.html.

Given the notoriety of the embassy attacks, Abdullah was appointed to al-Qaeda’s shura council where he consulted on all planned attacks, which included the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 and the 9/11 attacks. He was also placed in charge of the organization’s training camps as he was adept at gauging the skills of operatives and determining their roles in future attacks.Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/.

On October 12, 2001, Abdullah was designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and was also designated on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” Terrorist list.“Treasury Department Releases List Of 39 Additional Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 12, 2001, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/po689.aspx; “Comprehensive List of Terrorists and Groups Identified Under Executive Order 13224,” U.S. Department of State, December 31, 2001, https://2001-2009.state.gov/s/ct/rls/fs/2001/6531.htm. The FBI offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.“Wanted Information that brings to justice…Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah,” Rewards for Justice, https://rewardsforjustice.net/english/abdullah_abdullah.html. The United Nations Security Council designated Abdullah on October 17, 2001 for being associated with al-Qaeda and for “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities” in support of al-Qaeda.“Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah El Alfi,” United Nations, January 10, 2011, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/abdullah-ahmed-abdullah-el-alfi.

Abdullah reportedly fled to Iran in 2003 and was allegedly under covert surveillance by Iranian authorities.Adam Goldman, Eric Schmitt, Farnaz Fassihi, and Ronen Bergman, “Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks, Was Killed in Iran,” New York Times, November 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/13/world/middleeast/al-masri-abdullah-qaeda-dead.html; Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/. However, once Iranian authorities suspected that the militants knew they were being watched, Iranian security forces arrested Abdullah and two other senior al-Qaeda leaders—Abu Khayr al-Masri and Saif al-Adel—on April 23, 2003. Abdullah was offered his freedom in the fall of 2011 on the condition he would return to his home country, but Abdullah declined the offer as he was certain he could face retribution from Egypt’s security services.Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/.

According to former FBI special agent Ali Soufan, at some point in 2007, al-Qaeda opened a back-channel with Iranian authorities to negotiate the status of detainees. On September 18, 2015, Abdullah was reportedly one of five al-Qaeda operatives released by Iran in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.Ali Soufan, “Next in Line to Lead al-Qa`ida: A Profile of Abu Muhammad al-Masri,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2019, https://ctc.usma.edu/next-line-lead-al-qaida-profile-abu-muhammad-al-masri/; “Al Qaeda and Iran: Alliance Against the US,” United Against Nuclear Iran, https://www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com/al-qaeda-iran.

On August 7, 2020, two assassins on motorcycles shot and killed Abdullah on the street in Tehran, Iran. His daughter, Miriam, the widow of Hamza bin Laden, was also killed. Iranian media initially identified the victims as Lebanese history professor and Hezbollah member Habib Daoud and his 27-year-old daughter Maryam. Unidentified intelligence officials confirmed Abdullah’s identity three months later to the New York Times and allege that the Iranian government had provided Abdullah with the Daoud identity and cover story. According to the officials, Israeli agents carried out the assassination at the behest of the United States.Adam Goldman, Eric Schmitt, Farnaz Fassihi, and Ronen Bergman, “Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks, Was Killed in Iran,” New York Times, November 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/13/world/middleeast/al-masri-abdullah-qaeda-dead.html.

 
United States

The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah for being a member of al-Qaeda on October 12, 2001.“Treasury Department Releases List Of 39 Additional Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 12, 2001, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/po689.aspx.

United Nations

The United Nations Security Council adds “Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah el Alfi” for being associated with al-Qaeda on October 17, 2001.“Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah El Alfi,” United Nations, January 10, 2011, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/abdullah-ahmed-abdullah-el-alfi.

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