An Iranian scientist that Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program until its disbanding in the early 2000s was “assassinated” Friday, state television said.
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.”
State TV Friday cited sources confirming the death. It said it would offer more information shortly.
The semi-official Fars news agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine-gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through the windshield and blood pooled on the road.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh.
Not the first targeted killing this year
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “Amad” program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s now-unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency earlier this month confirmed reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed underground at its Natanz facility. Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium since U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to pull America out of the multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which had limited Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
It would not be the first targeted killing connected to Iran this year. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported earlier this month, citing intelligence officials.
It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. U.S. authorities had been tracking Masri and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, the newspaper said.
In January, prominent Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were among seven killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.
The UN’s human rights expert issued a report calling the drone strike a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed that report, stating the operation was in “response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”