Al-Qaeda's second-in-command was apparently gunned down in August—but where it happened, and what that means, might be as big as the killing itself. Intelligence officials tell the New York Times that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was shot by Israeli agents on Aug. 7 at the behest of Washington. Al-Masri and his sister were driving in Tehran when two motorcycle gunmen drove up beside them; five shots later, the siblings were dead. A cloud of geopolitical intrigue fell over the killing as Iran covered it up, al-Qaeda said nothing, and rumors circulated of al-Masri's death. Iran's official story was that Habib Daoud, a Lebanese history professor, was killed along with his daughter.
Now it turns out "Daoud" might have been al-Masri's alias while Iran harbored him. But why would Iran, a Shiite theocracy, harbor a Sunni Muslim terrorist from al-Qaeda, a sworn enemy? Some experts say Iran may have kept him as security against the group conducting activities there, or to let it run ops against America. "Iran uses sectarianism as a cudgel when it suits the regime, but is also willing to overlook the Sunni-Shia divide when it suits Iranian interests," says a counterterrorism analyst. The Guardian reports that Iran denies the report and accuses the US and Israel of "leaking false information." Al-Masri, 58, had been indicted on crimes related to US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 224 people. He was killed on the anniversary of the attacks. (Read more al-Qaeda stories.)