Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abd Al-Rahman, better known by his alias Abu Khayr al-Masri, a 59-year-old Egyptian and a longtime top member of al-Qaida, was killed in an American drone strike in Syria, the terrorist group confirmed in a statement on Thursday.
The al-Qaida statement said he died in a “treacherous” drone strike it described as a “new crime by America and the crusader coalition,” according to Reuters.
A Hellfire missile fired by a CIA drone struck the car carrying Abu Khayr al-Masri in Idlib, Syria, on Sunday, Reuters reported. The attack was also reported by CNN, The New York Times, and The Guardian.
Abu Khayr al-Masri had been designated as an al-Qaida operative by the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2005. The designation accused him of conspiring to commit terrorist acts and training and providing material support to al-Qaida, and coordinating al-Qaida’s work with the Taliban.
By that time, he was living in conditions akin to house arrest in Iran, along with a handful of other top al-Qaida leaders from the inner circle of the group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, who had fled Afghanistan into Iran in anticipation of the U.S. counter strike for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York and Washington. Bin Laden fled to Pakistan, where he was killed in a U.S. Navy Seal raid in 2011.
Abu Khayr al-Masri was married to one of bin Laden’s daughters and was a longtime associate of bin Laden and his successor, Ayman al-Zwahiri, and was considered the group’s number two leader.
The security firm founded by former FBI agent Ali Soufan called Abu Khayr’s death “a major blow” for al-Qaida.
“Outside of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Masri was one of the most important legacy leaders left from the core al-Qaeda group,” The Soufan Group said. “Al-Masri’s significance in terms of his direct connection to the core of al-Qaida and to some of its more infamous attacks is difficult to overstate.”
Abu Khayr’s guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, is reputedly where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, currently detained at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, briefed top al-Qaida leaders about the September 11 attack plans, according to TSG.
Testimony and evidence in the 2014 trial of al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghayth disclosed that Abu Khayr had been living in Iran, along with Abu Ghayth and another most wanted al-Qaida leader, Saif al-Adel, who remains at large and is under federal indictment for his role in the lethal 1998 al Qaida truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Abu Ghayth, a Kuwaiti imam who emerged as a key al-Qaida spokesman after September 11, was convicted of terrorism charges in Manhattan federal court and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include more information about Saif Al-Adel.