Iran accuses Israel after assassination of top nuclear scientist
The Iranian semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh - widely viewed as the architect of Iran's contentious nuclear programme - was shot dead in the small Iranian city of Absard east of Tehran.
Another semi-official news agency, Fars, said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in.
The area around Absard is filled with vacation villas for the Iranian elite with a view of Mount Damavand, the highest peak in the country. Roads on Friday, part of the Iranian weekend, were emptier than normal due to a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic, offering his attackers a chance to strike with fewer people around.
The wounded, including Fakhrizadeh's bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, according to Fars.
State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through the windshield and blood pooled on the road.Fakhrizadeh, a former brigadier general in the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC), was accused by Iran's regional rival Israel of leading plans to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that there were "serious indications of (an) Israeli role" in the assassination of Fakhrizadeh.
"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice -- with serious indications of Israeli role -- shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," Zarif said.
He also called on the international community to "end their shameful double standards and condemn this act of state terror."
The killing comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Tehran also blamed on Israel. Those targeted killings came alongside the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, that destroyed Iranian centrifuges.
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, whose name Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out in a news conference.
A Western diplomat interviewed for a 2014 profile of the nuclear scientist said Fakhrizadeh "would be known as the father of the Iranian bomb" if Tehran ever pursued nuclear weapons.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran's so-called "Amad," or "Hope" program. 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 that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” in a “structured program” through the end of 2003. That was the Amad program, which included work on the carefully timed high explosives needed to detonate a nuclear bomb.
Iran also “conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device” before 2005 and between 2005 and 2009, the IAEA has said. The agency said, however, that those calculations were “incomplete and fragmented.”
IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran's now-unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
Netanyahu in 2018 gave a presentation in which he unveiled what he described as material stolen by Israel from an Iranian nuclear archive.
“A key part of the plan was to form new organizations to continue the work,” Netanyahu alleged in 2018. “This is how Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of Project Amad, put it. Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”