Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, dubbed the “father of the Iranian bomb,” died from injuries after armed assassins fired upon his car, according to reports by Iranian media.

A PROMINENT Iranian nuclear scientist who was seen as a driving force behind Tehran’s disbanded effort to build a nuclear weapon nearly two decades ago was killed Friday outside Tehran in an apparent targeted ambush, Iranian officials said.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, described the attack on the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as the work of “state terror” and implicated Israel as having a possible role. Officials in Israel had no comment.

The killing of Fakhrizadeh — on a road in Damavand east of Tehran — was the third high-profile attack to shake Tehran’s leadership in less than a year.

In January, a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and head of its special-operations forces abroad. And in August, Israeli agents acting on behalf of American officials assassinated a senior al-Qaeda official in Tehran, according to a U.S. official.

Fakhrizadeh was once at the pinnacle of Iran’s nuclear program, including efforts to develop nuclear arms that Tehran claims was scrapped in 2003. But his current role is less directly involved in Iran’s nuclear sites, which include an energy-producing reactor and extensive centrifuge labs to enrich uranium.

While Fakhrizadeh had been a key figure in Iran’s bomb program, “that work is all in the past, and there is no reason to expect that if Fakhrizadeh is gone it would have any effect on Iran’s current nuclear program,” said Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA and a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Still, the attack showed apparent holes in Iran’s security and intelligence networks — nearly a decade after a spate of targeted bombings and gun ambushes killed at least four people with links to Iran’s nuclear program.

Analysts also said the timing of the attack appeared linked to the impending change of U.S. administrations.

President Trump — who withdrew the United States from nuclear pact Iran struck with world powers five years ago — has pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. President-elect Biden had pledged to work more closely with allies on Iran policies and work to rejoin the nuclear agreement.

“The operation reflects thinking of those in the Netanyahu government — and or the Trump administration — who see these next few weeks as their last chance to make relations with Iran as bad as possible, in an effort to spoil the Biden administration’s efforts to return to diplomacy with Tehran,” said Pillar, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the office would not comment on reports of Fakhrizadeh’s death. U.S. officials had no immediate comment, but Trump retweeted veteran Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who described the attack as a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

Iran has recently increased its stockpile of enriched uranium since the Trump administration pulled out of a nuclear deal. Iran has insisted the enriched uranium is only for its reactors. Iran’s foes counter that it puts the nation closer to producing warhead-grade material.

Fakhrizadeh was gravely wounded during a “clash” between his security detail and unidentified “armed terrorists,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency said. Fakhrizadeh later died at the hospital, the agency said.

A gray sedan with its windshield riddled by bullet holes were seen in photos, distributed by Iranian news agencies, from the scene of the attack.

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today,” Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter.

Iran has accused Israel and the United States of carrying out similar deadly attacks on nuclear experts in the past.

“This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif tweeted about the death of Fakhrizadeh. “Iran calls on int’l community — and especially E.U. — to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.”

Fahkrizadeh “was one of the key individuals behind Iran’s nuclear program in the post-revolution era,” and deeply involved in shaping “the weapons phase of the program,” said Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

“This is very significant politically and symbolically. It again exposes the deep flaws in Iran’s internal security. This is one of many incidents involving Iran’s nuclear program this year and one of several targeted killings on Iranian soil or affecting high level Iranians,” she said.

Fakhrizadeh was widely regarded as the brains behind Iran’s nuclear program, including Tehran’s clandestine efforts to develop a nuclear bomb in the early 2000s. The physics professor, believed to be about 60 years old, has been identified by intelligence officials as the head of the Amad Plan, the secret nuclear weapons research program that sought to develop as many as six nuclear bombs before Iranian leaders ordered a halt to the program in 2003.

His importance to Iran’s weapons program is underscored in thousands of Iranian documents that were stolen by Israeli operatives and smuggled out of the country in 2018. The trove of nuclear records include reports and handwritten notes signed by Fakhrizadeh, directing his subordinates on carrying out a series of experiments aimed at mastering key technical challenges in the construction of a nuclear device.

The documents and other records portray Fakhrizadeh as leader of the project since 1998. After the weapons program was halted in 2003, he continued to supervise successor organizations that continued to employ many, if not most, of the Amad project’s scientists in conducting nuclear-related research, U.S. and Israeli analysts believe.

The current program is “now more focused on maintaining and developing nuclear weaponization capabilities rather than building the weapons themselves, said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington nonprofit that tracks nuclear-weapons proliferation.

He called the attack on Fakhrizadeh a “shocking and disturbing development.”
Fakhrizadeh, became a Revolutionary Guard Corps member after the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979. He was a former leader of the Physics Research Center, which U.N. officials say was heavily involved in drawing up plans and acquiring parts for Iran’s first uranium enrichment plant. He was among eight Iranians placed under international travel and financial restrictions under the terms of a U.N. resolution adopted in 2007 because of his alleged ties to “nuclear or ballistic missile” research, U.N. records show.

Formerly a reclusive figure rarely seen in public, Fakhrizadeh has more recently allowed himself to appear on official Iranian websites, including during events held by the Supreme Leader. Albright said the increased visibility “may have made him more vulnerable, making his movements easier to track.”

Netanyahu mentioned Fakhrizadeh in his speech after the archives was disclosed, several times as the mastermind behind the Iranian nuclear program and called him the “shadow man.” Netanyahu added: remember this name. 

Targeted attacks between 2010 and 2012 killed at least four researchers and others with links to Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran accused Israel and the United States of masterminding the attacks as part of covert war. U.S. officials have denied any role, and Israel has not commented.

In 2011, Darioush Rezaeinejad, an electrical engineer doctorate student whose work involved nuclear applications, was gunned down outside his Tehran apartment. In November 2010, a bombing in Tehran killed Majid Shahriari, was a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and a member of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Another blast that month injured a nuclear scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, who was later appointed head of Iran’s atomic agency.

In 2012, motorcycle riders attached a magnetic bomb that tore apart a car carrying Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a nuclear scientist working at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility in Natanz. Roshan, 32, had planned to attend a memorial for another nuclear researcher, Tehran University professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, who was killed in a similar pinpoint blast in 2010.

An Iranian man convicted in the Mohammadi attack, whom Iran claimed was trained by Israel’s Mossad spy agency, was hanged in 2012.



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