Top Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who, Israel alleged, led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear programme until its disbanding in the early 2000s has been “assassinated” in an ambush near Tehran.
Fakhrizadeh was shot and injured “by terrorists” in his vehicle, in Absard, a suburb in eastern Tehran. Later he succumbed to his injuries in what amounted to a “martyr’s death,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
Local authorities had confirmed Fakhrizadeh’s death, several hours earlier, and also said that several attackers were killed.
Fakhrizadeh served as head of the Research and Innovation Organisation of the defence ministry.
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Fakhrizadeh, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.”
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of top Iranian nuclear scientists.
The semiofficial Fars news agency said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through windshield and blood pooled on the road.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to Fars news agency, Fakhrizadeh “came under attack by 3–4 unknown assailants”.
‘Serious indications’ of Israeli role
Iran’s foreign minister has alleged the killing of the top Iranian scientist has “serious indications” of an Israeli role.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice, with serious indications of Israeli role, shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Fakhrizadeh, 63, was a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and was an expert in missile production. That was why the Israeli secret services had long sought to eliminate him for many years, Fars news agency said.
A military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei accused Israel of killing Fakhrizadeh to try to provoke a war.
“In the last days of the political life of their… ally (US President Donald Trump), the Zionists (Israel) seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” commander Hossein Dehghan tweeted.
He said Fakhrizadeh’s work continue to be a ‘nightmare’ for Iran’s enemies.
Fakhrizadeh was “one of the persons, who was fighting without any claims behind the scenes of political battles, and achieved martyrdom in this path,” tweeted Dehghan, a former defence minister, who announced this week he will run for presidency next year.
The US Pentagon also declined to comment on reports of the attack.
‘More detrimental to Iran’s antagonists’
Mohammad Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran told Al Jazeera that “the only result from the assassination is that it is going to make Iranians more assertive when it comes to dealing with its antagonists.”
“It is too late for the western intelligence agencies, or the Israeli intelligence agencies, or the EU and US backed MEK terrorist organisation, do anything about Iran’s nuclear programme,” Marandi said.
“Fifty years ago if they carried out this attack it would’ve had an impact. But now Iran’s nuclear programme is developed; it’s highly diverse. It has many young scientists and these murders will be more detrimental to Iran’s antagonists, I believe than Iran.
“Fakharizadeh was one of the first generation of people in Iran who helped develop nuclear technology,” Marandi said.
He led Iran’s so-called Amad (Hope) programme. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran has long maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the Amad programme ended in the early 2000s. Its inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites.
Friday’s assassination marks the second high-profile targeted killing of a top Iranian official after IRGC Quds Force chief General Qassem Soleimani’s killing in a US airstrike in January this year.
Fakhrizadeh’s killing came on the eve of the assassination anniversary of another top Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari. Majid died in 2010.
He had survived a few assassination bids in the past.