Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, 62, was killed in a brazen daylight gun and bomb attack on his car in a town east of Tehran on Friday. Conflicting reports have emerged regarding the details of the assassination, including the numbers of perpetrators involved and the weapons used. Iran has blamed Israel for the attack, and threatened to avenge the “martyr.”
The weapon used to kill Imam Hussein University physics professor Mohsen Fakhrizadeh ‘bears the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry,’ an anonymous informed source has told Iran’s PressTV.
The source did not provide any further information regarding the alleged weapon or weapons collected at the crime scene, situated in the town of Absard, about 175 km outside Tehran.
Iranian and international media have released a variety of information about the details of the killing, some of it conflicting. On Sunday, Fars reported that the operation may have been carried out without any human agents whatsoever, instead using a remote-controlled machinegun attached to a vehicle. Before that, Iranian media reported that Fakhrizadeh was mortally wounded when a truck bomb detonated near his vehicle, after which multiple assailants riddled his car with bullets and engaged in a shootout with his bodyguards. Fakhrizadeh was said to have been airlifted to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds.
Fakhrizadeh, who was listed as one of five Iranians in Foreign Policy magazine’s 500 most powerful people in the world in 2013, was a professor at Iran’s prestigious Imam Hussein University, a senior Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran scientist and a brigadier general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specialising in missiles.
In a presentation in late April 2018 urging Washington to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged that Fakhrizadeh was the head of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme, and called on the international community to “remember that name”.
Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Revolutionary Guard and others have accused Israel of involvement in Fakhrizadeh’s murder, with Zarif calling for the world to “condemn this act of state terror” while other officials threatened revenge. Tehran has yet to present the world with direct evidence of Israeli’s alleged culpability.
Fakhrizadeh is the second high-level Iranian official to be killed in 2020. In January, Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone strike in Baghdad during a goodwill visit aimed at defusing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran responded to Soleimani’s killing by launching over a dozen ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq, leaving over 100 US troops with traumatic brain injuries.
Israeli officials have not publicly commented on Fakhrizadeh’s murder. However, on Saturday, an unnamed Israeli official said to have been involved in tracking the Iranian nuclear scientist told US media that the world should ‘thank Israel’ for eliminating him, because he purportedly posed a “menace” to the international community through his work on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iran has repeatedly dismissed US and Israeli claims about its alleged nuclear weapons-related activities, saying its nuclear programme was strictly civilian in nature, and criticised Washington and Tel Aviv for trying to lecture Tehran about nuclear non-proliferation while themselves possessing (and in the US case even using) nuclear weapons themselves. The International Atomic Energy Agency has found no credible evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Fakhrizadeh’s assassination isn’t the first killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist which Tehran has blamed on Israel and Western intelligence agencies. According to a recent Sputnik investigation, at least seven Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted in attacks between 2007 and 2020, some of them blamed on the Mossad, and others on the CIA and MI6.