Iran denied a report that Al Qaeda's second-in-command was killed in Tehran in August by Israeli operatives at the behest of the United States, saying there were no members of the terrorist group on its soil.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad Al Masri, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle in the streets of Tehran on August 7.
Al Masri, one of Al Qaeda's founding leaders, was killed along with his daughter, the widow of former Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's son, Hamza bin Laden, the Times reported, citing unnamed intelligence officials.
The killing of Al Masri, seen as a likely successor to Al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri, had been kept secret, the newspaper said. Al Qaeda did not announce the death of the Egyptian-born militant, while Iranian officials covered up the assassination.
Al Masri continues to be listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, with a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture. He is accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said the United States and Israel sometimes "try to tie Iran to such groups by lying and leaking false information to the media in order to avoid responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region".
The administration of US President Donald Trump's "scare-mongering tactic against Iran has become routine," Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
The New York Times said it was unclear whether the United States had role in the killing, but US authorities had been tracking Al Masri and other al Qaeda operatives in Iran for years.
Shiiite Iran and Al Qaeda, a Sunni militant organisation, have long been enemies.
Al Masri had been in Iran's "custody" since 2003 but had been living freely in an upscale suburb of Tehran since 2015, the Times cited US intelligence officials as saying.
Counterterrorism officials believe Iran may have let him live there to conduct operations against US targets, the Times said.
Al Qaeda has lost a number of senior leaders in the two decades since the September 11 attacks but haas managed to maintain active affiliates from the Middle East to Afghanistan to West Africa.