Who was the al-Qaeda leader that Israel allegedly killed?

American analysts said that ties between original al-Qaeda leaders and the newer generation, who grew up after the death of Bin Laden, may be cut by Masri's death.

Captured Afghan al Qaeda members 311 R (photo credit: Reuters [file])
Captured Afghan al Qaeda members 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters [file])
Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa was killed in August, reportedly by Israeli operatives acting on behalf of the US.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri has long been on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. He is one of the founding leaders of al-Qaeda and was considered next-in-line to lead the organization after current leader Ayman al-Zawahri, according to the New York Times.
American intelligence officials said that Masri has been in Iran's custody since 2003, but has been living freely since 2015, the Times reported. Masri and other officials "believed the United States would find it very difficult to act against them there,” said Yoram Schweitzer from Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies, explaining why Masri was in Iran.
Masri was part of the management council of al-Qaeda, and was one of a group of senior al-Qaeda officials who took refuge in Iran after they were forced to flee Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, according to the Times.
A 2008 classified document produced by the US National Counterterrorism Center describes Masri as the "most experienced and capable operational planner not in US or allied custody,” according to the Times. The document also describes Masri as the “former chief of training.”
Masri was born in northern Egypt and was a professional soccer player in Egypt's top league, the Times reported citing affidavits filed in lawsuits in the US. He joined the Jihadist movement working to assist Afghan forces after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Masri was not allowed to return to Egypt, and he stayed in Afghanistan joining Bin Laden in the group that became al-Qaeda. He is listed as the seventh of 170 founding members of the organization, according to the Times.
Masri helped train Somali guerrillas in the use of rocket launchers against helicopters. This training was reportedly used in the 1993 shooting of the American helicopters known as the Black Hawk Down Attack.
“When al-Qaeda began to carry out terrorist activities in the late 1990s, Masri was one of the three of Bin Laden’s closest associates, serving as head of the organization’s operations section,” said Schweitzer. “He brought with him know-how and determination and since then was involved in a large part of the organization’s operations, with an emphasis on Africa.”
Bin Laden put Masri in charge of operations against American target in Africa, and in 2000, Masri joined al-Qaeda's governing council and was in charge of military training. In 2003, he reportedly ordered an attack in Kenya that killed 13 locals and three Israeli tourists.
Due to his importance among the group's old guard and his high rank within the organization, some American analysts believe that ties between original al-Qaeda leaders and the newer generation, who grew up after the death of Bin Laden in 2011, may be cut by Masri's death, the Times reported.
According to former National Counterterrorism Center director Nicholas J. Rasmussen, “If true, this further cuts links between old-school al-Qaeda and the modern jihad,” according to the Times. “It just further contributes to the fragmentation and decentralization of the al-Qaeda movement.”

Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.