Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist suspected of leading Iran's nuclear weapons program, was shot and killed Friday while traveling in a vehicle east of Tehran, Iranian state media said. He was apparently taken to the hospital for treatment, but doctors were unable to save him.
Fakhrizadeh has long been a top target of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly singled him out in 2018. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif believes Jerusalem was behind the assassination, but a spokesperson for the Israeli military refused to comment. Hossein Dehghan, a military commander and adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed retaliation against whomever the perpetrators are. "We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action," he tweeted.
Not much is known about Fakrizadeh, believed to be 59, but a 2007 CIA assessment said his role as a physics professor was likely a cover story, and it later became clear he was in charge of Iran's warhead development, The New York Times reports. Iran has denied ever seeking a nuclear weapon, but an Israeli mission in 2018 uncovered documents detailing such a project that was in place 20 years ago. Even after that was seemingly abandoned, Israeli and American intelligence officials say, it appears Fakhrizadeh was covertly overseeing the program.
The alleged assassination will likely add another roadblock for the incoming Biden administration, which already faced an uphill climb in its hopes of at least partially re-establishing some sort of nuclear pact with Iran, the Times notes. Read more at The Guardian and The New York Times.