Iran’s prominent nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was shot and killed on Friday in what Iranian media called a roadside ambush as he and his team travelled outside Tehran.
Blaming arch rival Israel for the killing, Iran President Hassan Rouhani said it would not slow down the country’s nuclear programme. He added Tehran would retaliate at its time of choosing.
In a televised cabinet meeting, Rouhani said: “Iran’s enemies should know that the people of Iran and officials are braver than to leave this criminal act unanswered. In due time, they will answer for this crime.”
Fakhrizdeh was the head of research and innovation at Iran’s defence ministry. Most western intelligence agencies believe the nuclear physicist was behind the covert Iranian weapons programme.
In fact, a western diplomat told Reuters news agency in 2014: “If Iran ever chose to weaponise (enrichment), Fakhrizadeh would be known as the father of the Iranian bomb.”
The incident threatens to escalate tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme with the US and its close ally Israel.
Though there has been no comment from Israel on the killing, The New York Times quotes three US officials as saying Israel was behind the attack.
Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated and Tehran has accused Jerusalem of complicity in the killings.
Condemning the attack, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javed Zarif said “terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist. This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators.”
Zarif also called on the international community to “condemn this act of state terror”.
Iran also suspects the US’s involvement in the attack with minister of defence Amir Hatami invoking the killing of General Qassem Soleimani.
The Iranian general was assassinated in a US drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump in January, an attack that pushed the two countries to the brink of war.