Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s high nuclear scientist, assassinated close to Tehran

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The most senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was murdered near the capital Tehran, the country’s Ministry of Defense has confirmed.

Fakhrizadeh died in hospital after an attack in Absard, Damavand county.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has condemned the murder “as an act of state terror”.

Western intelligence agencies believe that Fakhrizadeh is behind a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“Should Iran ever choose a weapon (enrichment), Fakhrizadeh would be known as the father of the Iranian bomb,” a Western diplomat told Reuters in 2014.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

The news of the killing, however, comes amid new concerns about the increased amount of enriched uranium the country is producing. Enriched uranium is an essential component of both civil nuclear power and military nuclear weapons.

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A 2015 deal with six world powers put limits on its production, but since President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, Iran has deliberately rejected its deals.

Joe Biden has pledged to look back at Iran when he takes over the US presidency in January, despite longstanding opposition from Israel.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionMohsen Fakhrizadeh, shown in an undated photo, was head of the Department of Defense’s research and innovation organization

Four Iranian nuclear scientists were murdered between 2010 and 2012, and Iran has accused Israel of complicity in the murders.

Fakhrizadeh’s name was explicitly mentioned in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran’s nuclear program in May 2018.

There was no comment from Israel on the news of the assassination. According to Reuters, the Pentagon has also refused to comment.

What happened to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?

In a statement on Friday, the Iranian Defense Ministry said: “Armed terrorists have targeted a vehicle carrying Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of the ministry’s research and innovation organization.

“After a clash between the terrorists and his bodyguards, Mr. Fakhrizadeh was seriously injured and taken to hospital.

“Unfortunately, the medical team’s efforts to save him were unsuccessful and he passed away a few minutes ago.”

According to Iranian media reports, the attackers opened fire on the scientist in his car.

The Fars news agency previously reported that a car explosion had occurred in the city of Absard. Witnesses reported that “three to four people believed to have been terrorists were killed”.

Why was he targeted?

By Paul Adams, BBC diplomatic correspondent

Clearly, Fakhrizadeh was still a major player as head of the Defense Ministry’s research and innovation organization. Hence Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning two years ago to “remember his name”.

Since Iran violated its obligations under the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015, the country has developed rapidly, building up stocks of low-enriched uranium and enriching it to a purity above the level allowed under the agreement.

Iranian officials have always said that such moves are reversible, but that research and development developments are harder to eradicate.

“We cannot go backwards,” said former Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, recently.

If Mohsen Fakhrizadeh were the key player Israel claims, then his death could represent someone’s attempt to curb Iran’s forward momentum.

Since US President-elect Joe Biden is talking about re-including Washington in Iran, the attack could also aim to complicate future negotiations.

What was the reaction like?

“Terrorists murdered a distinguished Iranian scientist today,” the Iranian foreign minister said in a tweet.

“This cowardice – with serious references to the role of Israel – shows the desperate warmongering of the perpetrators.”

Mr. Zarif called on the international community to “condemn this act of state terror”.

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionThe site of the attack in Damavand near Tehran

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has said that Iran will avenge the murder of the scientist.

“The assassination of nuclear scientists is the most obvious violation of global hegemony to prevent our access to modern science,” said Major General Hossein Salami.

Who Was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?

Fakhrizadeh is the best-known Iranian nuclear scientist and senior officer of the elite corps of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Western security forces have long described him as extremely powerful and instrumental in Iran’s nuclear program.

According to secret documents Israel received in 2018, he was running a nuclear weapons manufacturing program.

At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had identified Fakhrizedeh as the program’s senior scientist and asked people to “remember the name”.

Media signatureIn 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed what he believed to be Iran’s secret nuclear archive

In 2015, the New York Times compared him to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

Fakhrizadeh, professor of physics, is believed to have headed Project Amad, the alleged covert program launched in 1989 to explore the potential for building an atomic bomb. According to the IAEA, it was closed in 2003.

The IAEA has long wanted to speak to him as part of its investigations into the Iranian nuclear program.

Suspicions that Iran was using the program as a cover for developing a nuclear bomb prompted the EU, the US and the United Nations to impose crippling sanctions in 2010.

The deal that Iran signed with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany in 2015 has resulted in its nuclear activities being curtailed in exchange for sanctions easing.

Since President Trump abandoned the deal, it has failed. Earlier this month, the IAEA announced that Iran had more than twelve times the amount of enriched uranium than allowed under the agreement.

Meanwhile, tensions between the US and Iran have increased and peaked in January when the US assassinated Gen Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

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