Iran on Monday said that the death of an engineer at the Parchin military complex near Tehran last month was caused by “industrial sabotage,” according to an Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander.
“The martyr from the Ministry of Defense was himself not the target but was affected by an act of industrial sabotage. We must prevent such threats with artificial intelligence methods,” Hassani Ahangar told the semi-official Entekhab news agency, according to Reuters.
Ahangar did not say who he believed was behind the alleged attack.
While Iranian officials initially used the word “accident” to describe the explosion, the Defense Ministry in a statement shortly after the attack called it an “incident” and labeled the casualty a “martyr,” suggesting that Tehran was convinced it was an attack by a foreign entity.
Last month, the New York Times reported that the deadly explosion at the military complex was caused by quadcopter suicide drones.
The report cited three Iranian sources along with a US official, who confirmed that drones hit the site, but declined to say who was behind the attack. It said the drones exploded a building being used for research on Iran’s drone development.
The report noted that the strike fit a pattern of previous attacks that have been attributed to Israel, including previous strikes against Iran’s drone program.
Iranian sources told the Times that the drone attack was launched from inside Iran, not far from the Parchin military base — which the Islamic Republic uses to develop missile, nuclear and drone technology — noting that quadcopter drones have a short flight range, and Parchin is a long way from Iran’s borders.
Following the attack, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Hossein Salami said that the killing “will be responded to… Our enemies should wait,” without naming who they were.
Parchin, located south of Tehran, has been tied to Iran’s missile production work and nuclear research. It has been the site of a number of mysterious blasts in the past, which some have suggested were engineered by Iran’s foes.
The complex is alleged to have hosted past testing of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear warhead, something Iran has repeatedly denied.
The site came under renewed scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2015 when Tehran reached a landmark deal with major powers under which it agreed to curb its nuclear activities under UN supervision in return for the lifting of international sanctions. The deal has since fallen apart.
Iran had previously denied the IAEA access to Parchin, insisting it was a military site unrelated to any nuclear activities, but the agency’s then-chief, the late Yukiya Amano, paid a visit to the site.
Other explosions and fires occurred in Parchin in 2014 and 2007.
Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of a campaign of sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations of key scientists that it has blamed on Israel. Israel has vowed it will not let Iran obtain nuclear weapons.
Israel did not comment on the incident at Parchin, but it mirrored others that have taken place recently in Iran and Lebanon where Jerusalem has sought to target Tehran’s production and transfer of drone technology to proxy groups across the Middle East.
It would not be the first time that a drone attack was allegedly launched from within Iran’s borders, apparently by operatives said to have been recruited by Israel.
A senior Israeli military official told the New York Times that the country has invested significant resources to detect and destroy such weapons, which pose a particular threat given that they can evade the IDF’s antimissile systems such as Iron Dome.
Iranian drones were used in attacks against Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen and even a US base in Syria, intelligence officials told the Times.
The alleged strike on Parchin came days after gunmen took out an officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the middle of Tehran.
A colonel in the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who was reportedly suspected of providing information that led to the assassination of the colonel, Sayyad Khodaei, died days later when he allegedly fell off a roof.
Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks with a number of other deaths of security and scientific personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders, and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.