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Bombs, bullets, killers on motorbikes: Iran’s string of slain nuclear scientists

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is latest, and most prominent, of numerous leading researchers assassinated over past decade, in remarkably similar attacks Iran has ascribed to US and Israel

Damaged cars that three Iranian scientists, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, right, Majid Shahriari, center, and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, were riding in when they were killed in bombings are displayed outside a conference hall hosting the meeting of Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Damaged cars that three Iranian scientists, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, right, Majid Shahriari, center, and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, were riding in when they were killed in bombings are displayed outside a conference hall hosting the meeting of Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Several Iranian scientists working in the nuclear sector have been killed over the past decade in targeted attacks blamed by Tehran on Israel and the US, with the latest assassination coming on Friday.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in Friday’s assassination of one of its most prominent nuclear scientists.

He was identified by the defense ministry as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who headed its research and innovation organization.

Israel has identified him as the head of Iran’s nuclear weapons development program, which the country has denied it ever had.

Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in an undated photo (Courtesy)

Here is a look at some previous assassinations:

  • In January 2010, Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a particle physics professor at Tehran University, was killed when a booby-trapped motorcycle exploded outside his home in the capital. The respected professor taught at the university but also worked for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Several leaders and official media in Iran quickly blamed the attack on Israeli and US intelligence services. Tehran had the previous month accused the US and Israel of kidnapping nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri who disappeared in May that year.
  • In November 2010, two scientists with key roles in the Iranian nuclear program were targeted in Tehran by two bomb attacks that Iran blamed on Israel and the US. One of the scientists, Majid Shahriari, was killed. The other, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived and later went on to lead the country’s Atomic Energy Agency in 2011-2013.
  • Darioush Rezaeinejad, a nuclear physicist, was shot dead outside his house in July 2011 by gunmen on motorbikes. German newspaper Der Spiegel claimed the operation was carried out by Mossad.
In this July 24, 2011 file photo, relatives and friends mourn over the coffin of Darioush Rezaeinejad, shown in photograph on the coffin and at left, during a funeral ceremony the day after he was shot dead, in Tehran, Iran (AP Photo/File)
  • In November 2011 an explosion in a munitions depot of the Revolutionary Guards in a Tehran suburb killed at least 36 people including General Hassan Moghadam, in charge of weapons programs for the elite unit.
  • In January 2012 Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a nuclear scientist who was a supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility was killed in a blast after a motorcyclist pressed a bomb to the vehicle.
File: This photo released by Fars News Agency is claimed by them to show one of the damaged cars following bomb attacks on the vehicles of two nuclear scientists in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Nov. 29, 2010 (AP Photo/Fars News Agency)

Other cases of note:

  • Nuclear scientist Ardeshir Hosseinpour was killed in 2007. There were conflicting reports as to the cause, with media sources originally claiming he was “gassed.” Later, US private intelligence reported that he had died of radioactive poisoning and that sources close to Israeli intelligence had confirmed that he was targeted by Mossad. However, in 2014 his sister claimed Hosseinpour was killed by Iranian authorities for refusing to work in Iranian nuclear projects.
  • In January of 2015 Iran claimed it had thwarted a plot to assassinate another scientist, though it did not give details.
  • Earlier this month The New York Times reported that Israeli operatives killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command on a Tehran street in August 2020 at the behest of the United States. Following the shooting, Iranian media identified the victims as a history professor from Lebanon named Habib Daoud and his daughter, Maryam. But the newspaper said Daoud was an alias Iran provided to al-Masri.

There have been no reports of further hits on nuclear scientists over the past five years.

It is unclear who exactly was carrying out the assassinations. US media reported at the time that Israel had trained Iranian dissidents to be the point men in the attacks.

Over the years Iran has arrested and executed several people it accused of helping Mossad, though there has been no outside confirmation of those assertions.

File: Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili gestures during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. A picture of Majid Shahriari, a prominent nuclear scientist, who was killed in a bomb attack on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, covers the front of the lectern. (AP Photo/ Anja Niedringhaus)

CBS News reported in 2014 that the US had pressured Israel to stop assassinations in Iran, as the Obama administration made a push to seal a nuclear deal with Tehran — which was eventually signed in 2015.

However, with the nuclear accord disintegrating since US President Donald Trump pulled out of it in 2018, and Tehran resuming uranium enrichment and other activities, Jerusalem and Washington would presumably have cause to once again take steps to hit the country’s capabilities.

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