The widow of the Iranian nuclear scientist who was assassinated on Friday said her husband had wanted to die a “martyr,” and predicted his death would prompt a thousand others to take up his work.
After years of being in the shadows, the image of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh suddenly was to be seen everywhere in Iranian media on Saturday, as his widow spoke on state television and officials publicly demanded revenge on Israel for the scientist’s slaying.
Fakhrizadeh’s widow appeared unnamed on state television in a black chador.
“He wanted to get martyred and his wish came true,” she said.
Fakhrizadeh, the scientist said by Israel and the US to head Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, was assassinated Friday in an ambush near the capital Tehran, Iran’s defense ministry said. The ministry confirmed the death of Fakhrizadeh, a professor of physics and an officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, after it was widely reported in Iranian media.
Several top Iranian officials indicated they believed Israel was behind the killing in the hours after the attack, with one adviser to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader vowing revenge. Israel had no comment on the attack, and Israeli TV reports late Friday said the IDF had not been placed on a heightened alert in its wake.
The assassination happened in Absard, a village just east of the capital that is a retreat for the Iranian elite. Iranian state television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a sedan carrying Fakhrizadeh.
As Fakhrizadeh’s sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car with rapid fire, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said. Israeli TV reports on the incident Friday night said the gunmen emerged in two separate groups, some on motorbikes, and fatally wounded Fakhrizadeh and shot dead three of his bodyguards before escaping.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist.” Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, said Iran’s first priority after the killing was the “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it.” He did not elaborate.
Speaking earlier Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel for the killing.
“We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time,” Rouhani said. “The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos.”
Both Rouhani and Khamenei said Fakhrizadeh’s death would not stop the nuclear program. Iran’s civilian atomic program has continued its experiments and now enriches a growing uranium stockpile up to 4.5% purity in response to the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal after the US’s 2018 withdrawal from the accord.
That’s still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%, though experts warn Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium for at least two atomic bombs if it chose to pursue them.
Hard-line Iranian media has begun circulating memorial images showing Fakhrizadeh standing alongside a machine-gun-cradling likeness of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whom the US killed in the January drone strike.
Fakhrizadeh was named by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 as the director of Iran’s nuclear weapons project. When Netanyahu revealed then that Israel had removed from a warehouse in Tehran a vast archive of Iran’s own material detailing with its nuclear weapons program, he said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago, in a bid to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. It made no comment on the matter Friday. Israeli TV coverage noted that Friday’s attack was far more complex than any of those previous incidents.