The Iranian Defence Ministry has confirmed earlier media reports that a high-ranking nuclear physicist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has been killed. In a press release, the ministry says they are treating Fakhrizadeh's assassination as a terror attack.
"Today, in the afternoon, armed terrorists attacked the head of research and innovation at the Defence Ministry. As his security guards and terrorists clashed, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was seriously injured and hospitalised," the press service said in a statement adding that he died in the hospital despite efforts to resuscitate him.
Iran's Defence Minister, Amir Hatami, said on Twitter that the nuclear physicist's death shows how very deeply Iran's enemies hate its citizens.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has suggested Israel could be involved in the killing; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has refused to comment on the matter.
Conflicting Reports About the Assassination
The news about the scientist's killing was first run by Rajanews website that reported earlier on Friday the scientist had been assassinated in the city of Absard in Iran's Damavand County.
The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran was quick to reject the report of the nuclear physicist's killing, according to the news agency ISNA. The spokesperson for the organisation stated that all scientists in the country's nuclear industry were safe and in good health.
At the same time, Iranian social media users shared photos and videos from the alleged scene of the assassination, claiming they heard an explosion and a barrage of fire in the area.
Iran Revolutionary Guards Commander, Hossein Salami, has taken to Twitter to condemn the assassination of nuclear scientists, which he believes is being done to prevent Iran from gaining access to modern science.
In a separate development, a screenshot of what looked like a tweet by Hossein Salami circulated in social media, in which he vowed to avenge the killings of Iranian scientists. However, the authenticity of the post cannot be confirmed as this tweet is absent from Salami's page.
Who is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
The nuclear physicist, also known as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, was a physics professor at the Imam Hussein University in Tehran as well as a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The International Atomic Energy Agency in its report "Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme", dated 2 December 2015, named Fakhrizadeh as the leader of the so-called AMAD programme. The project, purportedly launched in the late Eighties and ended in 2003, allegedly aimed to develop nuclear warheads. Israel, in particular, claimed that Iran never stopped the work under the programme. In 2018, Netanyahu unveiled alleged Iranian nuclear archives in a presentation in which he mentioned Fakhrizadeh, referring to him as the AMAD project head.
Iran has repeatedly denied having any military nuclear programme, stressing that the atomic energy is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.