The head of Iran’s army Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said “the criminal hands” of the United States and Israel were clearly seen in the assassination of a top nuclear scientist in Tehran on Friday, the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on Friday.
“The criminal hand of the United States, the evil Zionist regime… are clearly seen in this crime,” Mousavi said.
Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s most prominent nuclear scientists was assassinated on Friday in an attack on his car outside Tehran, the defense ministry said earlier on Friday.
He was "seriously wounded" when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his security team, the ministry added. He later succumbed to his injuries and died in the hospital.
Iranian officials vowed to avenge the slain scientist and pointed the finger of blame at Israel.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has claimed there were "serious indications of (an) Israeli role" in the assassination.
Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami said: “Severe revenge and punishment for the perpetrators of this crime is on the agenda,” according to Iranian media.
Israel “designed and directed” Fakhrizadeh’s killing, Salami alleged. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it was not commenting on the attack on the Iranian nuclear scientist.
Whoever is responsible for the attack, it is certain to escalate tension between Iran and the United States in the final weeks of Trump's US presidency.
Trump, who lost his re-election bid on Nov. 3 and leaves office on Jan. 20, has repeatedly accused Iran of secretly seeking nuclear weapons. Trump pulled the United States out of a deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear program. President-elect Joe Biden has said he would restore it.
A US official confirmed earlier this month that Trump had sought from military aides a plan for a possible strike on Iran, but had decided against it at that time.
The scientist's assassination comes nearly a year after Iran and the US stood on the brink of war when an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
It comes just as 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.
Who is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
Fakhrizadeh, once described by Netanyahu as the father of Iran's nuclear weapons program, had been travelling in a car near Absard city in Tehran province's eastern Damavand county.
He has long been described by Western, Israeli and Iranian exile foes of Iran’s clerical rulers as a leader of a covert atomic bomb program halted in 2003. Iran has long denied seeking to weaponize nuclear energy.
He had the rare distinction of being the only Iranian scientist named in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear program and whether it was aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.
Fakhrizadeh was named in a 2007 UN resolution on Iran as a person involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities. An IAEA report the following year also referred to him briefly.
Iranian media rarely mention him. In 2007, the semi-official Mehr News Agency described him as a scientist working for the Defense Ministry and a former head of the Physics Research Centre, a body also mentioned in the IAEA’s report.
Some Iranian websites said he was a university professor.
But Western analysts acknowledged that little is publicly known about Fakhrizadeh, described by Albright’s think tank as a nuclear engineer who has overseen a number of projects related to weaponization research and development.
The IAEA had said in 2002-2003, Fakhrizadeh was the executive officer of the so-called AMAD Plan, which according to its information conducted studies related to uranium, high explosives and the revamping of a missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
“If Iran ever chose to weaponize (enrichment), Fakhrizadeh would be known as the father of the Iranian bomb,” a Western diplomat who is critical of Iran’s nuclear program had told Reuters.
- With Agencies