An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed by a bomb in his car in what appears to be the latest covert assassination to hinder the country’s nuclear programme.
Two men on a motorbike attached a magnetic bomb to the car of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshanan, a university professor working at a key nuclear plant, killing both he and his driver.
The attack in Tehran was similar to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear programme and is certain to amplify authorities’ claims of clandestine operations by Western powers and their allies.
Professor Roshan was a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said he had organisational links” to Iran’s nuclear agency, which suggests a direct role in key aspects of the programme.
Natanz is Iran’s main enrichment site, but officials claimed earlier this week that they are expanding some operations to an underground site south of Tehran with more advanced equipment.
The West is pressuring Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a key element of the nuclear programme suspected to be producing atomic weapons. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as nuclear fuel but at higher levels, it can be used as material for a nuclear warhead.
Iran denies it is trying to make nuclear weapons, saying its programme is for peaceful purposes only, geared towards generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
Tehran has accused Israel’s Mossad, the CIA and Britain’s MI6 of engaging in an underground “terrorism” campaign against nuclear-related targets, including at least three killings since early 2010 and the release of a malicious computer virus known at Stuxnet in 2010 that temporarily disrupted controls of some centrifuges – a key component in nuclear fuel production.
All three countries have denied the Iranian accusations.
Israeli officials, however, have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.
On Tuesday, Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a “critical year” for Iran – in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally.”
“Many bad things have been happening to Iran in the recent period,” added Mickey Segal, a former director of the Israeli military’s Iranian intelligence department. “Iran is in a situation where pressure on it is mounting, and the latest assassination joins the pressure that the Iranian regime is facing.”
Defiant Iranian authorities pointed the finger at Israel.
First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Israeli agents were behind the attack, but cannot “prevent progress”.
Safar Ali Baratloo, a senior security official, was quoted by Fars as also saying the attack was the work of Israelis.
“The magnetic bomb is of the same types already used to assassinate our scientists,” he said.
Roshan, 32, was inside the Iranian-assembled Peugeot 405 car together with two others when the bomb exploded near Gol Nabi Street in north Tehran. It said Roshan’s driver later died at a hospital. An 85-year old passer-by was also wounded in the blast.
Fars described the explosion as a “terrorist attack” targeting Roshan, a graduate of the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.
A similar bomb explosion two years ago killed Tehran University professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi.
In November 2010, a pair of back-to-back bomb attacks killed another nuclear scientist and wounded one more. In July 2011, motorcycle-riding gunmen killed Darioush Rezaeinejad, an electronics student allegedly involved in nuclear weapon design.