Iran accuses exiled dissident group of helping Israel kill top nuclear scientist

Paris-based MEK denies involvement, says top official making accusation is spreading ‘rage, rancor and lies’ after assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

Iranian mourners attend the burial ceremony of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh at Imamzadeh Saleh shrine in northern Tehran, on November 30, 2020. (HAMED MALEKPOUR / TASNIM NEWS / AFP)
Iranian mourners attend the burial ceremony of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh at Imamzadeh Saleh shrine in northern Tehran, on November 30, 2020. (HAMED MALEKPOUR / TASNIM NEWS / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Israel and an exiled opposition group used new and “complex” methods to assassinate its leading nuclear scientist, as it buried him Monday in a funeral befitting a top “martyr.”

As it laid Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — seen by Israel as the “father” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program — to rest, the Islamic Republic also vowed to redouble his work.

Fakhrizadeh died Friday after his car and bodyguards were targeted in a bomb and gun attack on a major road outside the capital, heightening tensions once more between Tehran and its foes.

Iran’s top security official, Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani of the Supreme National Security Council, said the “operation was very complex, using electronic equipment, and no one was present at the scene.”

The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) were “certainly” involved, along with “the Zionist regime and the Mossad,” he said, referring to the Israeli government and its spy agency.

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, arrives for a meeting at his office in Tehran, Iran, March 16, 2014. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

“We have some clues,” Shamkhani said, according to a Reuters report of his remarks.

MEK rejected as “rancor and lies” Tehran’s accusation that it was involved in the killing.

“Accusing the Mujahedeen of killing the regime’s nuclear experts is nothing new and is a reaction to the exposure of the entirety of the mullahs’ nuclear structure and program,” the group said.

It dismissed “Shamkhani’s rage, rancor, and lies” against the outlawed group, while claiming credit for past revelations on Iran’s nuclear program and previously secret sites.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (Agencies)

“For the first time in 2004, the PMOI (People’s Mujahedeen) identified Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as the official in charge of the regime’s bomb-making apparatus,” it said.

The group said it had “saved the world and the Iranian people from the danger of the mullahs’ speedy access to a nuclear bomb and blocked their path.”

The Paris-based MEK is the main member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella organization for various Iranian dissident groups. It has in the past been designated a terror organization by the US, the European Union and Japan, although all three later lifted the designation.

Shamkhani’s comments came in video interviews broadcast by state television and the Fars news agency.

Without citing sources, Fars itself reported the attack had been carried out with the help of “a remote-controlled automatic machinegun” mounted on a pickup truck.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had on Saturday accused Israel of acting as a “mercenary” for the United States by carrying out the assassination.

Israel has refused to comment on the assassination, but an unnamed Israeli source told the New York Times that it had been involved.

The assassination has led to demands for a strong response from Iran’s leadership and calls by some conservative lawmakers to avoid entering potential negotiations with the United States, even as the hawkish presidency of Donald Trump draws to a close.

Parliament on Sunday demanded a halt to international inspections of nuclear sites in the country, a step that could prove a fatal blow to the nuclear deal the Islamic Republic agreed with world powers in 2015.

The head of the Expediency Council, Mohsen Razai, hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.

Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions, but US President-elect Joe Biden has promised a return to diplomacy.

Rouhani has emphasized Iran will seek its revenge for the assassination in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap.”

The US slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for “activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Around a year after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, it began gradually abandoning most of its key commitments under the agreement.

Enmity will ‘never cease’

The funeral was not open to the public in order to maintain health protocols over the novel coronavirus pandemic, the defense ministry said.

Military personnel stand near the flag-draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who was killed on Friday, during a funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. Fakhrizadeh founded Iran’s military nuclear program two decades ago, and the Islamic Republic’s defense minister vowed to continue the man’s work “with more speed and more power.” (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Some “say we can make the enemy not have enmity (towards us) through talking. That is not possible,” said the supreme leader’s representative at the defense ministry, Ziaodin Aghajanpour, standing next to Fakhrizadeh’s coffin.

“Why? Because the enemies are against the basis of the Islamic Republic system,” he added, emphasizing that Iran’s foes “will never cease their enmity.”

As part of the procession before the funeral, Fakhrizadeh’s remains were taken on Saturday and Sunday to holy Shiite shrines in the northeastern city of Mashhad and Qom in central Iran, as well as the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran.

The scientist’s coffin was buried at Imamzadeh Saleh, an important Shiite shrine in northern Tehran where two other slain nuclear scientists were buried in 2010 and 2011.

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