Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday called for the “definitive punishment” of the people who were involved in the killing of a scientist linked to Tehran’s disbanded military nuclear program, a slaying the Islamic Republic has blamed on Israel.
Khamenei called Mohsen Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist.”
Israel, long suspected of killing scientists a decade ago amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, has yet to comment on the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
The slaying threatens to renew fears of Iran striking back against the U.S., Israel’s closest ally in the region. The Pentagon announced early Saturday that it sent the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier back into the Mideast.
Khamenei said Iran’s first priority after the killing was the “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it.”
Speaking to a meeting of his government’s coronavirus task force, President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel for the killing.
Rouhani said that Fakhrizadeh’s death would not stop its nuclear program. Iran’s civilian nuclear program has continued its experiments and now enriches uranium up to 4.5%, far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.
But analysts have compared Fakhrizadeh to being on a par with Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the U.S.’ Manhattan Project in World War II that created the atom bomb.
“We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time,” Rouhani said.
He added: “The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos.”
The attack on Fakhrizadeh comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari that Tehran also blamed on Israel.
Fakhrizadeh, born in 1958, had been sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) and the U.S. for his work on AMAD. Iran always described him as a university physics professor. A member of the Revolutionary Guard, Fakhrizadeh had been seen in pictures in meetings attended by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a sign of his importance in Iran’s theocracy.
In recent years, U.S. sanctions lists name him as heading Iran’s Organization for Defensive Innovation and Research. The State Department described that organization last year as working on “dual-use research and development activities, of which aspects are potentially useful for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems.”