Students in the Iranian capital Tehran burned Israeli and American flags on Saturday to protest the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Iran has blamed on Israel.
The students, who demonstrated outside Iran’s foreign ministry, also burned photos of US President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, according to photos from AFP.
The French news agency identified the students as members of the Basij, the paramilitary unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Fakrizadeh was a senior officer in the IRGC.
A hardline student group issued a statement calling for inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to be ejected from the country, denouncing them as “spies,” the Tasnim news agency said.
The Union of Islamic Student Societies also reportedly called to boycott negotiations with Western powers until those behind the attack stand trial, and demanded a military response to the assassinations of Fakhrizadeh and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in January.
Earlier Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Israel of assassinating Fakhrizadeh and vowed to avenge his death. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also called for revenge.
Israel placed its embassies and delegations around the world on a heightened security alert amid concerns of Iranian reprisals, Israel’s Channel 12 News reported Saturday afternoon. Israel has made no official comment on the assassination.
Fakhrizadeh was killed on Friday in an ambush in Absard, a village just east of the capital Tehran, as his vehicle neared a truck that exploded when it approached. Local reports then described a barrage of automatic gunfire as gunmen emerged from a nearby car. A firefight erupted between the assassins and Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards. The attackers wounded Fakhrizadeh and killed at least three of the guards before escaping.
On Friday night, a small demonstration broke out in Tehran outside Rouhani’s residence, with dozens of hard-line protesters calling for war with the United States following the assassination.
The protesters, a crowd of dozens of men, shouted “no to submission, no to concession with America, only war with America,” the New York Times reported on Friday. It cited videos shown on Iranian TV and posted to social media channels. They also held up signs that read “silence is permission for more assassinations” and “Mr. President, they killed your minister’s adviser. Stop negotiation.”
Guess this is the first (or one of the first) time(s) a picture of Biden is being set on fire in protest at the US, even before he takes office.
A gathering of hardline Iranians in Mashhad, warning against talks with Biden in the aftermath of #Fakhrizadeh assassination pic.twitter.com/b0YjeCTtgt
— Reza Khaasteh (@Reza_Khaasteh) November 28, 2020
The attack came just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari that Tehran also blamed on Israel. That and other targeted killings happened at the time that the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, destroyed Iranian centrifuges.
Those assaults occurred at the height of Western fears over Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran long has insisted its program is peaceful. However, Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that “structured program” ended in 2003.
IAEA inspectors monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of the now-unraveling nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Following Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal, Iran has abandoned all of those limits. Experts now believe Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to make at least two nuclear weapons if it chose to pursue the bomb. Meanwhile, an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility exploded in July in what Tehran now calls a sabotage attack.
Agencies contributed to this report.