TEHRAN, Iran – On Saturday Iran’s top leader demanded the “final punishment” of those behind the attack. murder of a scientist linked to Tehran’s dissolved military nuclear program, a killing of the Islamic Republic has blamed Israel.
Israel, long suspected of killing scientists a decade ago, amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, it did not even comment on Friday’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. However, the attack had the hallmarks of a carefully planned, military-style ambush.
Killing threatens renewing tensions between the US and Iran in the tiny days of President Donald Trump’s tenure, as President-elect Joe Biden suggested that his administration could return to Tehran’s nuclear deal with the world powers from which Trump had previously withdrawn. The Pentagon announced Saturday early that it has sent the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the Middle East.
In a statement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh “an important and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist of the country.”
Khamenei said Iran’s first priority after the assassination was “the final punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it.” It didn’t elaborate.
Speaking at a meeting of his government’s coronavirus workforce earlier Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani he accused Israel for killing.
Rouhani said Fakhrizadeh’s death will not stop his nuclear program, something Khamenei also said. The Iranian civilian nuclear program has continued its experiments and now enriches uranium up to 4.5%, well below the 90% weapons levels.
But analysts have compared Fakhrizadeh to being on par with Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the U.S. Manhattan Project in World War II that created the atomic bomb.
“We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a timely manner,” Rouhani said.
He added: “The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They think it creates chaos. ”
Friday’s attack took place in Absard, a country just east of the capital that is a retreat for the Iranian elite. Iranian state television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a pile of wood jumped near a sedan carrying Fakhrizadeh.
When the Fakhrizadeh sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and set fire to the vehicle with rapid fire, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said.
Fakhrizadeh died at a hospital after doctors and paramedics were unable to revive him. Other injuries included Fakhrizadeh guards. Photos and videos shared online show a Nissan sedan with bullet holes in the windshield and common blood on the road.
Hours after the attack, the Pentagon announced that it had reported airlift USS Nimitz to the Middle East, an unusual move that the carrier has already spent months in the region. He cited the decline of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq as the reason for the decision, saying “it was prudent to have additional defensive capabilities in the region to respond to any contingency.”
The attack comes just days before the 10th anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari that Tehran has also accused Israel of. That and other targeted killings occurred at a time when the so-called Stuxnet virus, which is believed to be an Israeli and American creation, had destroyed Iranian centrifuges.
Those assaults took place at the time of Western fears over Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran has long insisted that its program is peaceful. However, Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West said was a military operation that guarded the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says the “structured program” was completed in 2003.
IAEA inspectors are monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites as part of the now-disrupted nuclear deal with world powers, which has seen Tehran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
After Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal, Iran has abandoned all of these limits. Experts now believe that Iran has enough enriched uranium to manufacture at least two nuclear weapons if it chooses to pursue the bomb. Meanwhile, an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz’s Iranian nuclear facility exploded in July in what Tehran now calls a sabotage attack.
Fakhrizadeh, born in 1958, had been sanctioned by the UN Security Council and the United States for his work on AMAD. Iran has always called him a professor of university physics. A member of the Revolutionary Guard, Fakhrizadeh had been seen in the photos at meetings attended by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a sign of his importance in the Iranian theocracy.
In recent years, U.S. sanctions lists have called him as leader of the Iranian Organization for Defense Innovation and Research. The State Department described the organization last year as working on “dual-use research and development activities, aspects of which are potentially useful for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems.” .
Meanwhile, Iran’s mission to the UN described Fakhrizadeh’s recent work as “development of the first indigenous COVID-19 test kit” and overseeing Tehran’s efforts to make a possible vaccine against the coronavirus.