Iranian scientist linked to military nuclear program assassinated in attack: state media
An Iranian scientist, who American and Israeli intelligence have said led the country’s military nuclear program, was assassinated in an attack on Friday in northern Iran, state media reported.
Iranian state media reported that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was believed to be 59, was shot and killed by “armed terrorist elements” while in a vehicle in the town of Absard and died in the hospital after doctors were unable to save him, The Associated Press reported based on state media.
“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 obtained by Reuters.
The military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised to retaliate against Fakhrizadeh’s killers, tweeting, “We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action,” according to Reuters.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif alleged there were “serious indications” of an Israeli role in the attack but did not provide specific evidence.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, according to the AP.
Iranian media cited past comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who named Fakhrizadeh at a briefing and called on people to “remember that name.”
Western officials recognized Fakhrizadeh as Iran’s Robert Oppenheimer, the American scientist who created the atomic bomb in 1945, NBC News noted.
Fakhrizadeh was believed to be leading Iran’s nuclear program for two decades and kept working after the military effort quietly ended in the early 2000s, according to American intelligence, The New York Times reported.
The scientist was the top target of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, which was widely acknowledged to have led the assassinations of scientists, including some of Fakhrizadeh’s deputies, 10 years ago.
Iran previously denied the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) request to interview Fakhrizadeh, alleging he was only an academic who worked at Imam Hussein University.
Iran has repeatedly denied it was developing a nuclear weapon, instead saying its work revolved around nonviolent goals. But an Israeli mission uncovered Iranian documents mentioning Fakhrizadeh and describing “Project Amad,” the name of Iran’s previous nuclear weapons program, according to The Times.
The alleged assassination comes as President Trump is in the last weeks of his presidency and was recently dissuaded by his senior advisers from striking Iran militarily to halt its nuclear program, The Times reported earlier this month.
The attack could make it more difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to reenter the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from two years ago and the former vice president has vowed to rejoin.