Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, dubbed by Israel as the father of Iran’s nuclear program, died on Friday after being seriously wounded when assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards outside Tehran.
The assassination comes less than two months before US president-elect Joe Biden is due to take office, after four years of hawkish foreign policy in the Middle East under Donald Trump.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has promised revenge for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as Israel and the US have been blamed by Iranian government officials for the killing ..
Fakhrizadeh was the head of the research center of new technology in the elite Revolutionary Guards and was a leading figure in Iran’s nuclear program and different Iranian news sites have given differing accounts of how he was killed.
One report published Sunday, November 29, from Fars News said Fakhrizadeh was traveling with his wife Friday in a bulletproof car, alongside three security personnel vehicles, when he heard bullets like sounds hitting a vehicle, then he exited the car to determine what had happened.
The report added that after he exited the vehicle, a remote-controlled machine gun opened fire from a Nissan placed about 150 meters (164 yards) from Fakhrizadeh’s car.
Fakhrizadeh was hit at least three times, according to Fars News. His bodyguard was also shot. Following the gunfire, the Nissan exploded, Fars News reported, adding the attack lasted three minutes.
In another report by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Fakhrizadeh’s car was hit by gunfire, followed by an explosion and more gunfire, citing Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami.
“Based on reports received from members of his security detail, Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s vehicle was initially targeted by gunfire, after which a Nissan vehicle laden with explosives was set off in close proximity to them as gunfire, targeting their vehicle, was continuing,” Hatami said, according to ISNA.
Another news site, IRIB, said the explosion happened first, followed by gunfire from attackers.
Seyed Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, compared the assassination to the killing of Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike earlier this year in Iraq.
“Undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a calculated and decisive answer to the criminals who took Martyr Fakhrizadeh,” Kharrazi was quoted as saying.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Khameini wrote over the weekend on a Twitter account that often carries his official statments, “Mr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by the oppressive enemies. This rare scientific mind lost his life for his everlasting great scientific work. He lost his life for God and the supreme leader.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on the international community “to end their shameful double standards” and “condemn this act of state terror.”
Zarif added that the attack showed “serious indications of Israeli role.”
Maj. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, Khamenei’s military adviser, tweeted Saturday that “Zionists” are seeking to create “all-out war” and vowed to “descend like lightning” on Fakhrizadeh’s killers.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, promised retaliation, saying during a cabinet meeting Saturday, “The think tanks and the enemies of Iran must know that the Iranian nation and the officials in charge in the country are brave and determined to respond to the murder in time.”
The killing, he said, was carried out at “the filthy hands of oppressors, in concert with the illegitimate Zionist regime.”
The US State Department and International Atomic Energy Agency have said in multiple reports that Fakhrizadeh held deep insight into the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities. In 2018, Netanyahu said Fakhrizadeh was the head of Project Amad, which he and others describe as a secret nuclear weapons endeavor.
“Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” the prime minister told reporters at the time.