Iran’s most senior nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near the capital Tehran, Friday
Iran defense ministry has confirmed Fakhrizadeh died in hospital after an attack in Absard, in Damavand
His car was reportedly struck by an explosion set by a “suicide” assassin before being sprayed with bullets
Fakhrizadeh, a professor of physics is the most renowned Iranian nuclear scientist and a senior officer of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Western intelligence agencies believe Fakhrizadeh was behind a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has condemned the killing “as an act of state terror”
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of Iran’s ministry of defense’s research and innovation organization died in hospital after an attack in Absard, in Damavand county, on Friday.
Fakhrizadeh’s car was reportedly struck by an explosion set by a “suicide” assassin before being sprayed with bullets in a brutal killing that is expected to spark harsh retaliation.
According to Iran state media, several other people have also died in the explosion. Disturbing photographs of the scene show the blood-soaked pavement and a black car punctured with bullets.
Reacting to the incident Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, condemned the killing “as an act of state terror”.
It comes amid ongoing tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the US – along with its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia – over the Islamic Republic’s quest for nuclear weapons.
Iran has vowed to “strike like thunder” on whoever carried out the attack.
Hossein Dehghan a top Iranian military adviser tweeted: “We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action”.
Western intelligence agencies believe Fakhrizadeh was behind a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.
“If Iran ever chose to weaponize (enrichment), Fakhrizadeh would be known as the father of the Iranian bomb,” one Western diplomat told Reuters news agency in 2014.
Iran insists its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
But news of the killing comes amid fresh concern about the increased amount of enriched uranium that the country is producing. Enriched uranium is a vital component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons.
A 2015 deal with six world powers had placed limits on its production, but since the Trump administration abandoned the deal in 2018, Iran has been deliberately reneging on its agreements.
Announcing the assassination’s of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s defense ministry in a statement on Friday, said: “Armed terrorists targeted a vehicle carrying Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of the ministry’s research and innovation organization.
“After a clash between the terrorists and his bodyguards, Mr Fakhrizadeh was severely injured and rushed to hospital.
“Unfortunately, the medical team’s efforts to save him were unsuccessful and minutes ago he passed away.”
Iranian media reports said the attackers opened fire on the scientist in his car.
Fars news agency earlier reported there was a car explosion in Absard town, with witnesses reporting that “three to four individuals, who are said to have been terrorists, were killed”.
Fakhrizadeh was targeted because as head of the ministry of defense’s research and innovation organization, He was clearly still a key player. Hence Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning, two years ago, to “remember his name”
Fakhrizadeh is the most renowned Iranian nuclear scientist and a senior officer of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
He has long been spoken about by Western security sources as extremely powerful and instrumental in Iran’s nuclear program.
A professor of physics, Fakhrizadeh is said to have led Project Amad, the alleged covert program that was established in 1989 to research the potential for building a nuclear bomb. It was shut down in 2003, according to the IAEA, though Netanyahu said the documents retrieved in 2018 showed Fakhrizadeh led a program which secretly continued Project Amad’s work.
The IAEA has long wanted to speak to him as part of its investigations into Iran’s nuclear program
According to secret documents obtained by Israel in 2018, he led a program to create nuclear weapons.
At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he identified Fakhrizedeh as the head scientist in the program, and urged people to “remember that name”
Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated and Iran has accused Israel of complicity in the killings.
Fakhrizadeh’s name was specifically mentioned in Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation about Iran’s nuclear program in May 2018.
There has been no comment from Israel on the news of the assassination. The Pentagon has also declined to comment, according to Reuters.
Since Iran started breaching its commitments under the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the country has moved ahead rapidly, building stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and enriching to a purity above the level permitted under the deal.
Iranian officials have always said such moves are reversible, but developments in research and development are harder to eradicate.
“We cannot go backwards,” Iran’s former ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said recently.
If Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the key player Israel alleges, then his death could represent someone’s effort to put the brakes on Iran’s forward momentum.
With the US president-elect, Joe Biden, talking about taking Washington back into the deal with Iran, the assassination could also be aimed at complicating any future negotiations.
Iran is furious at the assassination: “Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today,” Iran’s foreign minister said in a tweet.
“This cowardice – with serious indications of Israeli role – shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators.”
Zarif called on the international community to “condemn this act of state terror”.
The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Maj Gen Hossein Salami has said that Iran will avenge the killing of the scientist.
“Assassination of nuclear scientists is the most obvious violation of the global hegemony to prevent our access to modern sciences,” said Gen Salami.