Iran accused Israel and the US of being behind the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists on Friday and vowed revenge, sharply escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the head of research and innovation at Iran’s Ministry of Defense and widely seen as having a major role in the country’s nuclear program. He was killed close to the Damavand campus of Islamic Azad University, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of central Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news reported.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet, without offering any evidence for Israel’s involvement.
Iran’s army said the US also bore responsibility, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency. The Minister of Defense, Amir Hatami, told state TV the killing was “clearly linked” to the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani by drone in January.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment, as did officials at the Pentagon. The Central Intelligence Agency didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the US had knowledge of plans to carry out an assassination.
Trump re-tweeted a New York Times report on Fakhrizadeh’s killing without comment, as well as a tweet by an Israeli journalist who called the killing “a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.” While Israeli officials didn’t comment, the country has long viewed Iran’s nuclear research efforts as one of its biggest national security threats. Israel has vowed to take any measures necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear warheads, weapons Tehran says it has never sought to develop.