DUBAI: An Iranian scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb programme was killed in an ambush near Tehran yesterday that could provoke confrontation between Iran and its foes in the last weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Israel for the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and vowed to retaliate for his killing.
“In the last days of the political life of their ... ally (Trump), the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” Hossein Dehgan tweeted.
“We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action.”
Fakhrizadeh died of injuries in hospital after armed assassins fired on his car, Iranian state media reported. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Fakhrizadeh has been described by Western and Israeli intelligence services for years as the leader of a covert atomic bomb programme halted in 2003, which Israel and the US accuse Tehran of trying to restore in secret.
“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 carried by state media.
The semi-official news agency Tasnim said “terrorists blew up another car” before firing on a vehicle carrying Fakhrizadeh and his bodyguards in an ambush outside the capital.
Fakhrizadeh is thought to have headed what the UN nuclear watchdog and US intelligence services believe was a co-ordinated nuclear weapons programme in Iran, shelved in 2003.
He was the only Iranian scientist named in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA’s report said he oversaw activities “in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran’s) nuclear programme”.
He was a central figure in a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to seek nuclear weapons.
“Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said at the time.