WASHINGTON – A prominent Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed near Tehran, the Iranian government confirmed on Friday and accused Israel of being behind the killings without providing evidence so far.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, nicknamed “the father of Iranian bombs”, died of his wounds after gunmen opened fire on his car, according to Iranian media reports that have not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
State media shared photos of a black Nissan sedan with multiple bullet holes in the windshield and blood on the road beside the car door. No group immediately claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack.
A scene shows the scene of the attack that killed top Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020.
WANA via Reuters
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the killing on Twitter and accused “serious indication” of Israeli involvement.
Iran’s top military commander, Abdolrahim Mousavi, said the Islamic Republic had the right to take revenge, blaming the US and Israel for the scientist’s killing.
Fakhrizadeh’s death comes days before the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari. which Iran also blames on Israel.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council declined to comment. However, President Donald Trump retweeted news articles and comments about Fakhrizadeh’s death.
Little is known about Fakhrizadeh, a Revolutionary Guard officer, who has long been seen as Iran’s top nuclear scientist overseeing the regime’s secret weapons program.
In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of continuing to develop nuclear weapons and said Fakhrizadeh was working inside the Iranian Ministry of Defense on “special projects.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points to a screen with an image of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018.
Amir Cohen | Reuters
“Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” said Netanyahu at the time.
Fakhrizadeh’s death is expected to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States, which have escalated under the Trump administration following Washington’s exit from the US. important Iran nuclear agreement.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses a ceremony in Tehran, Iran on January 10, 2019.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA deal, brokered by the Obama administration, lifted sanctions against Iran which has crippled its economy and cut its oil exports by about half. In exchange for sanctions relief, Iran accepts limits on its nuclear program until it expires in 2025.
In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the JCPOA. Trump called it “the worst deal ever.”
The president has previously said he wants to reach a broader agreement with Iran that places tighter limits on its nuclear and ballistic missile work and suppresses the regime’s role in regional proxy warfare. Tehran refuses to negotiate while US sanctions remain in place.
Following Washington’s exit from the nuclear deal, other pact signatories — France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China – are trying to defend the deal.
In October, the United States unilaterally reimposed United Nations sanctions on Tehran through a snapback process, which other members of the UN Security Council previously said Washington did not have the authority to do because of withdrawing from the nuclear deal in 2018.
Relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated even more during the summer of 2019 following a series of attacks in the Persian Gulf.
In June, US officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran says the plane is over its territory.
The attacks came a week after the US blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.
The US in June imposed new sanctions on Iranian military leaders it blamed for shooting down the drone. The measures also aim to block financial resources for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tensions spiked again in September last year when the US blamed Iran for attacks in Saudi Arabia on the world’s largest crude oil refinery and oil fields.
The attack forced the kingdom to cut its production operations in half and sparked the biggest jump in crude prices in decades and renewed fears of a new war in the Middle East. Iran has insisted it was not behind the attack.
Earlier this year, the US carried out an air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander.
Iranian mourners gather during the final stages of the funeral procession of top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown of Kerman on January 7, 2020.
Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images