A top scientist for the Iranian nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated on Friday in Tehran. He was shot by a machine gun stationed in another car, according to a local news agency. Top Iranian officials reacted to the death of the scientist, blaming his assassination on Israel. The country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei pledged to revenge his death.
It is unclear yet how the attack occurred. A report said the nuclear scientist was traveling with his wife when a bullet-like object hit his car. When he stepped outside the bullet-proof car to investigate what had happened, three further bullets were riddled on him, killing him instantly. His bodyguard was also killed in the attack.
Another report by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) said Fakhrizadeh’s car was riddled with bullets before an explosion occurred. The Iranian state television said the explosion occurred first before gunfire followed; while the Iranian intelligence agency said the attack was carried out by a team of 62 highly specialized killers.
Seyed Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, likened the attack to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by US drones earlier this year. He said the killers of Fakhrizadeh will be met with a retaliatory response.
Iran’s Supreme Leader already heaped the blame for the attack on the doorsteps of Israel. Khamenei took to his Twitter account to praise the late Fakhrizadeh for his great research, which he said was used for the service of God and the country.
Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, used the opportunity to lambast the international community whom he said turned blind eyes to the acts of terror against the Iranian state. He also implicated Israel in the attack.
A key military adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei said on Saturday via a tweet that Israel was seeking war and that perpetrators of the current attack will be brought to justice. Many Iranian officials blamed the attack on Israel including, President Hassan Rouhani, who promised revenge. He said an emphatic statement will be sent to enemies of Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the attack, while the Israeli Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi said he did not know who carried out the attack, but the success of the attack had placed Iran in a very embarrassing position.
Information from US authorities revealed that the late Fakhrizadeh was an integral part of the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu had particularly identified Fahrizadeh as the arrowhead of the whole program.
The latest attack is expected to worsen the already frayed diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran which had taken its turn for the worse under President Donald Trump. Asides from pulling out from a nuclear deal with Iran, Trump also placed economic sanctions on Iran, which threatened to crumble the economy of the Islamic state.
Protests have already erupted in Tehran, as Iranian students demonstrated outside several government offices. Flags and effigies of Trump and President-elect Joe Biden were torched. The European Union has since condemned the attack. The United Kingdom, on its part, said it was trying to unravel facts of what happened. Fakhrizadeh is expected to be buried on Monday.