TEHRAN, Iran: A high-ranking Iranian nuclear physicist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated in an ambush near Iran’s capital, Tehran, on Friday.
Fakhrizadeh was shot “by terrorists” in his vehicle in Absard, a suburb in eastern Tehran, later succumbing to his wounds in what was described as a “martyr’s death”, according to Iran’s foreign ministry.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has blamed Israel for the killing of a top nuclear scientist on Friday and said it would not slow down the country’s nuclear programme.
Rouhani also said Iran would retaliate over Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing at a time of its choosing.
An Israeli cabinet minister said he had “no clue” who was behind the ambush by gunmen on Fakhrizadeh’s car.
Israel has previously accused the physicist of being key to a covert nuclear weapons programme.
Fakhrizadeh was Iran’s most renowned nuclear scientist, who headed the ministry of defence’s research and innovation organisation.
His killing threatens to escalate tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme with the US and its close ally Israel.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who had long been suspected by Western and Israeli intelligence of leading the nation’s military nuclear programme until its disbanding in the early 2000s.
Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators
Iran calls on int'l community—and especially EU—to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 27, 2020
But some have pointed the finger at Israel and the United States for the assassination, which threatens to increase tensions between Tehran and Washington in the final days of the Donald Trump presidency.
A statement from a spokesperson for the European Union called Fakhrizadeh’s killing “a criminal act” that “runs counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for”.
It also urged all parties to show “calm and maximum restraint”.
“In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for all parties to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid escalation which cannot be in anyone’s interest,” the statement said.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani condemned the assassination in a phone call with Zarif.
In the phone call, Sheikh Mohammed said “such steps will only contribute to pouring more fuel on the fire at a time when the region and the international community are searching for ways to reduce tension and return to the table of dialogue and diplomacy”, according to QNA, Qatar’s state news agency.
He also extended Qatar’s condolences to the government and the people of Iran and called for self-restraint.
The UN condemned Fakhrizadeh’s killing while urging restraint in order to avoid an “escalation of tensions”.
“We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region,” a UN spokesman said. “We condemn any assassination or extrajudicial killing.”
Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad accused Israel and “those who supported it” of being behind Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, an act he said would only fuel more tensions in the region.
Mekdad was quoted by state media as telling the Iranian envoy in Damascus that Syria was confident Iran would confront what he called a “terrorist act”.
Turkey’s parliamentary speaker referred to those responsible for the killing as “terrorist”.
“The assassination of the Iranian scientist was an act of terrorism. Whether it was committed by an illegal or a “legal” organization or a state makes no difference,” Mustafa Sentop said on Twitter.