Iran's supreme leader on Saturday demanded the "definitive punishment" of those behind the killing of a scientist who led Tehran's disbanded military nuclear program, as the Islamic Republic blamed Israel for a slaying that has raised fears of reignited tensions across the Middle East.
After years of being in the shadows, the image of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh suddenly was to be seen everywhere in Iranian media, as his widow spoke on state television and officials publicly demanded revenge on Israel for the scientist's slaying.
Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian scientists a decade ago amid earlier tensions over Tehran's nuclear program, has yet to comment on Fakhrizadeh's killing Friday. However, the attack bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned, military-style ambush, the likes of which Israel has been accused of conducting before.
The attack has renewed fears of Iran striking back against the U.S., Israel's closest ally in the region, as it did earlier this year when a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general. The U.S. military acknowledged moving an aircraft carrier back into the region, while an Iranian lawmaker suggested throwing out UN nuclear inspectors in response to the killing. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh "the country's prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist." Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, said Iran's first priority after the killing was the "definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it." He did not elaborate.
Speaking earlier Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel for the killing.
"We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time," Rouhani said. "The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos."
Both Rouhani and Khamenei said that Fakhrizadeh's death would not stop the nuclear program. Iran's civilian atomic program has continued its experiments and now enriches a growing uranium stockpile up to 4.5% purity in response to the collapse of Iran's nuclear deal after the U.S.' 2018 withdrawal from the accord.
Fakhrizadeh headed Iran's so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that "structured program" ended in 2003. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
Friday's attack happened in Absard, a village just east of the capital that is a retreat for the country's elite. Iranian state television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a sedan carrying Fakhrizadeh.
As Fakhrizadeh's sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car with rapid fire, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said. The precision of the attack led to the suspicion of Israel's Mossad intelligence service being involved. The CIA separately declined to comment on the attack Saturday. Photo credit: Fars News Agency via AP News source: The Associated Press
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