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A handout picture provided by the Iranian Supreme Leader's official website on November 27, 2020, shows Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. (AFP)
A handout picture provided by the Iranian Supreme Leader's official website on November 27, 2020, shows Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. (AFP)

Iran blames Israel for assassinating nuclear scientist in Tehran

  • Iran’s store of low-enriched uranium increased to about 2,443 kilograms (5,386 pounds) from 2,105 kilograms, according to the latest report by UN monitors
  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the head of research and innovation at Iran’s Ministry of Defense, according to a government statement

Iran said Israel was likely behind the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists on Friday and vowed revenge, sharply escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the head of research and innovation at Iran’s Ministry of Defense, according to a government statement. He was killed close to the Damavand campus of Islamic Azad University, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of central Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news reported.

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet.

He urged the European Union and international community to condemn the killing, while the head of Iran’s armed forces, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, called for the assassination to be avenged.

It comes at an extremely sensitive time in Iran as Trump’s defeat in the Nov. 3 U.S. election offers an opportunity to reset ties with the West after years of economic and military confrontation. The year began with the January assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike ordered by Trump, an attack that took the two adversaries to the brink of war.

Axios reported this week that Israel’s government had instructed the military to prepare for a possible U.S. strike against Iran during the remainder of Trump’s term, though it noted the order wasn’t based on intelligence or an assessment that the U.S. would order an attack.

Trump retweeted a New York Times report on Fakhrizadeh’s assassination without comment. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment.

Israel’s leader had singled out Fakhrizadeh in an April 2018 presentation he gave on Iran’s nuclear program, claiming that the scientist was the director of a secret project, disbanded 17 years earlier, to develop nuclear weapons.

According to the IAEA “Project Amad" had been mothballed in 2003, and Iran dismissed Netanyahu’s presentations at the time as “lies and war-mongering."

Fakhrizadeh was also named by the United Nations in 2007 as involved in Iran’s “nuclear or ballistic missile activities."

Israel has vowed to take any measures necessary to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear warheads, weapons Tehran says it has never sought to develop. Four other Iranian nuclear scientists have been shot dead in Tehran since 2010, with Iranian authorities usually blaming Israeli or U.S. intelligence agencies.

Friday’s killing comes close to the 10th anniversary of the assassination of one of them, Majid Shahriari, who was killed in a car bomb on Nov. 29, 2010.

Fars news reported that between three and four security guards were also killed in what it described as a “shootout."

Photos published by the semi-official Fars news agency, purportedly from the scene of the clash, show blood splattered on tarmac next to an Iranian-made black saloon vehicle with the window down on the driver’s side. The car’s windscreen had been shattered by several bullet holes.

Mehr news agency reported an explosion at a police station in the same district as the shootout but it was not immediately clear if the two incidents were linked.

Iran broke limits on the amount of low-enriched uranium it was allowed to store under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after Trump exited the accord and imposed sweeping economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s store of low-enriched uranium increased to about 2,443 kilograms (5,386 pounds) from 2,105 kilograms, according to the latest report by UN monitors. That’s enough of the heavy metal to create three bombs if Iran chose to enrich the material to weapons grade.

President-elect Joe Biden has said the U.S. could re-enter the nuclear agreement if Iran returns to compliance.


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