Iran has accused Israel of carrying out “an act of state terror” after the assassination of a top nuclear scientist who is believed to have masterminded Iran’s atomic bomb program for decades.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, dubbed “the father of Iranian regime’s nuclear bomb,” died from his injuries in hospital after an armed group of assassins fired on his car in Absard, east of capital Tehran, on Friday. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed Fakhrizadeh’s death and condemned the killing as state-ordered terrorism.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif reportedly wrote. As of Friday afternoon, Israel has declined to comment on Friday’s assassination, and no group has publicly claimed responsibility for the attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously shown a keen interest in the scientist. At a 2018 news conference, he discussed Fakhrizadeh’s role in Iran’s nuclear program and added: “Remember that name.” Israel was accused of carrying out a string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012.
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, acknowledged the assassination on Twitter and appeared to link its timing to the demise of Donald Trump’s presidency. “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.
Trump hasn’t commented on the attack, but retweeted a statement saying the killing was a “psychological and professional blow for Iran.” The killing is likely to complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to return America to the Iran nuclear deal which was abandoned by Trump.
The scientist has been suspected of being the brains behind Iran’s mysterious atomic bomb program for decades—although Iran has always denied the program’s existence. For years, Fakhrizadeh had been protected from the threat of assassination attempts through heavy security and secrecy. Until April of 2018, no photograph of him had been seen publicly.
Fakhrizadeh is believed to have headed the so-called AMAD Plan, which the U.N. nuclear watchdog and U.S. intelligence services concluded was a nuclear weapons program Iran abandoned in 2003. However, Netanyahu previously alleged that, after AMAD was shut down, Fakhrizadeh kept working within Iran’s Defence Ministry on “special projects.”
In 2007, an assessment done by the C.I.A. for the George W. Bush administration said Fakhizadeh’s claims to be a mere academic were a cover story for his role in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. According to the New York Times, his assets were ordered frozen by the U.S. in 2008.
The semiofficial Fars news agency reported gory details of the attack, saying that Fakhrizadeh was attacked by “armed terrorist elements.” Eyewitnesses reported the sound of an explosion followed by machine gun fire near Fakhrizadeh’s car, and the news channel showed video of a Nissan sedan covered in bullet holes.