February 22, 2024
US officials quiet on Iranian assassination amid fears of dangerous escalation

Iran’s supreme leader vows revenge after top nuclear scientist apparently assassinated

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who became the face of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was killed in an apparent ambush in a district east of Tehran on Friday. Photos from the scene showed the shattered windshield of a car, and blood on the road.

“There are two matters that people in charge should put in their to do list: 1- To follow up the atrocity and retaliate against those who were responsible for it. 2- To follow up Martyr Fakhrizadeh’s scientific and technical activities in all fields in which he was active,” Khamenei wrote Saturday in a tweet from an account often attributed to him, making a veiled reference to the country’s nuclear activities.

He added: “Our distinguish nuclear scientist in the defense of our country, Mr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by the oppressive enemies. This rare scientific mind lost his life for his everlasting great scientific work. He lost his life for God and the supreme leader. God shall reward him greatly.”

At a cabinet meeting Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “The think tanks and the enemies of Iran must know that the Iranian nation and the officials in charge in the country arIe brave and determined to respond to the murder in time.”

A view of the scene where Fakhrizadeh was killed, in Absard, Iran on Friday.

Rouhani and other senior officials had earlier accused Israel of orchestrating the killing, also vowing to retaliate.

In a statement published by semi-official news agency Fars, Rouhani laid blame on Israel for the attack: “Once again, the filthy hands of oppressors, in concert with the illegitimate Zionist regime, are tainted with the blood of one of the distinguished sons of this land and have thusly saddened the people of Iran for the loss of such a distinguished servant and scientist.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s had on Friday called the killing “cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role.”

Iran has provided no evidence of Israeli involvement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment to CNN on Friday.

In April 2018, Netanyahu mentioned Fakhrizadeh by name when he unveiled a nuclear archive that he said Israeli agents has smuggled out of Iran. He called him the head of a secret nuclear project called Project Amad. “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu told reporters.

Killing ‘a big deal,’ US official says

Fakhrizadeh was head of the research center of new technology in the elite Revolutionary Guards, and was a leading figure in Iran’s nuclear program for many years.

The killing could further fuel tensions between Tehran and Washington in the final weeks of US President Donald Trump’s term. US-Iran relations have rapidly deteriorated during Trump’s presidency.

Iran began to withdraw from its commitments to the 2015 landmark nuclear deal in 2019, a year after Trump pulled out of the agreement and unleashed crippling sanctions on the country.

Trump on Friday retweeted a post by prominent Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who wrote: “Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi assassinated in Damavand, east of Tehran according to reports in Iran. He was head of Iran’s secret military program and wanted for many years by Mossad. His death is a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

Mossad is the foreign intelligence agency of Israel.

The Trump administration said it was closely monitoring the apparent assassination. A US official told CNN the death “would be a big deal.”

Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group, also condemned the killing. Hezbollah’s second-in-command, Naim Qassem, said that agents of the US and Israel were behind the assassination.

Fakhrizadeh is mentioned in multiple reports by the US State Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency as holding deep insight into Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim reported from Tehran, Angela Dewan reported from London and Samantha Beech reported from Atlanta.