Iran’s most senior nuclear scientist has been assassinated near Tehran by “armed terrorists” in an attack that Iran said bore the hallmarks of an Israeli operation.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who headed the Defense Ministry’s Research and Innovation Organization, was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his vehicle before being engaged in a gunfight with his security team, the ministry said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving him, and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle,” the statement read.
Western intelligence services regarded Fakhrizadeh as the mastermind behind Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.
The killing showed “the depth of enemies’ hatred” toward the Islamic republic, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami tweeted.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter there were “serious indications of [an] Israeli role” in the assassination.
He also called on the international community to “end their shameful double standards and condemn this act of state terror.”
A military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also accused Israel of killing the scientist to try to provoke a war.
“In the last days of the political life of their…ally [U.S. President Donald Trump], the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” commander Hossein Dehghan tweeted.
Dehghan, who is a former defense minister, also threatened to “come upon the killers of this innocent martyr like thunder and make them regret what they did.”
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who 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 Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.
The Pentagon also declined to comment on Fakhrizadeh’s killing when asked by Reuters.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called Amad (Hope) program. Israel and the West say the program was a military operation assessing the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran has long maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency said the attack occurred in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran.
Iranian state television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a car carrying Fakhrizadeh.
As Fakhrizadeh’s sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car with rapid fire, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that the Amad program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors currently monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.