Iranian scientist linked to nuclear program killed
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program was killed Friday in an ambush on the outskirts of Tehran, authorities said.
Iran’s foreign minister alleged the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh bore “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but did not elaborate. Israel, long suspected of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists a decade ago, declined to immediately comment. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once told the public to “remember that name” when talking about Fakhrizadeh.
The killing risks further raising tensions across the Mideast, nearly a year after Iran and the U.S. stood on the brink of war when an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad. It comes just as U.S. 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 unravelled after U.S. 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.”
Details about the slaying remained slim in the hours after the attack, which happened in Absard, a village just east of the capital that is a retreat for the Iranian elite. Iranian state television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a sedan carrying Fakhrizadeh.
As Fakhrizadeh’s sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car with rapid fire, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said.
Fakhrizadeh died at a hospital after doctors and paramedics couldn’t revive him. Others wounded included Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards.
Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes in the windshield and blood pooled on the road.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed the finger at Israel, calling the killing an act of “state terror.”
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, also blamed Israel — and issued a warning.
“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to Trump’s last days in office. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”
The attack comes 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.