Iran’s top nuclear scientist “assassinated”, state media says
November 27, 2020 11:59 pm
An Iranian scientist that Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear programme until its disbanding in the early 2000s was “assassinated” Friday, according to state television.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed there were “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but Israel has declined to comment on the killing.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died of injuries in hospital after armed assassins fired on his car, Iranian media reported.
Fakhrizadeh has long been described by Western, Israeli and Iranian exile foes of Iran’s clerical rulers as a leader of a covert atomic bomb programme halted in 2003. Iran has long denied seeking to weaponise nuclear energy.
“Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving [Fakhrizadeh], and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle,” Iran’s armed forces said in a statement carried by state media.
The semi-official news agency Tasnim said earlier that “terrorists blew up another car” before firing on a vehicle carrying Fakhrizadeh and his bodyguards in an ambush outside the capital.
Zarif claimed there were “serious indications of [an] Israeli role” in the assassination.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice – with serious indications of Israeli role – shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
He also called on the international community to “end their shameful double standards and condemn this act of state terror”.
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out in a news conference.
In 2018, Netanyahu gave a presentation in which he unveiled what he described as material stolen by Israel from an Iranian nuclear archive.
“A key part of the plan was to form new organisations to continue the work,” Netanyahu alleged. “This is how Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of Project Amad, put it. Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”
Explosion, machine gun fire
The semiofficial Fars news agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran.
It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through its windshield and blood pooled on the road.
Raising tensions ahead of Biden inauguration
The killing risks further raising tensions across the Mideast, nearly a year after Iran and the US stood on the brink of war when an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.
It comes just as US president-elect Joe Biden stands poised to be inaugurated in January and will likely complicate his efforts to return America to a pact aimed at ensuring Iran does not have enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.
That deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, has entirely unraveled after President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018.
Trump himself retweeted a posting from Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, an expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, about the killing. Melman’s tweet called the killing a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”
Attack area empty due to lockdown
The attack came just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari that Tehran also blamed on Israel. That and other targeted killings happened at the time that the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, destroyed Iranian centrifuges.
The area around Absard, which has a view of with a view of Mount Damavand, the country’s highest peak, is filled with vacation villas. Roads on Friday, part of the Iranian weekend, were emptier than normal due to a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic, offering his attackers a chance to strike with fewer people around.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called Amad programme that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.
Tehran long has maintained its nuclear programme is only for civilian purposes.
Unraveling nuclear deal
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” in a “structured program” through the end of 2003.
That was the Amad programme, which included work on the carefully timed high explosives needed to detonate a nuclear bomb.
Iran also “conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device” before 2005 and between 2005 and 2009, the IAEA has said. The agency said, however, that those calculations were “incomplete and fragmented.”
IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of the now-unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. Experts believe Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to make at least two nuclear weapons if it chose to pursue the bomb.