Iranian scientist assassinated Photograph:( AFP )
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the 59-year-old was scientist targeted while travelling in a car near Absard city in Tehran province's eastern Damavand county
Iran held its arch-rival Israel responsible for assassination of its top nuclear scientist. Iranian defence ministry said on Friday that assailants targetted the car of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the scientist. The 59-year-old was targeted while travelling in a car near Absard city in Tehran province's eastern Damavand county.
The United States slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for "engaging in activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran's nuclear programme", and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once described him as the father of Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
A state television reporter said a pickup truck carrying explosives concealed under a cargo of wood exploded in front of Fakhrizadeh's car, before it was sprayed with bullets from an SUV in another lane.
Images from the scene showed a black sedan on the side of the road, its windshield pockmarked with bullet holes. A pool of blood was seen on the asphalt.
State television described Fakhrizadeh as one "of our country's nuclear scientists" and said Israel "had an old and deep enmity towards him".
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were "serious indications of an Israeli role" in his assassination.
"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today," Zarif tweeted.
"This cowardice -- with serious indications of Israeli role -- shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," he added.
He also called on the international community to "end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror."
A spokesman for Netanyahu questioned by AFP in Jerusalem declined to comment.
Iran's armed forces chief of staff called Fakhrizdeh's death "a bitter and heavy blow to the country's defence system" and warned of "severe revenge" for those behind it.
"We assure (Iranians) that we will not rest until we have chased and punished" those involved, Major General Mohammad Bagheri said in tweets picked up by state news agency IRNA.
Fakhrizadeh's assassination comes less than two months before Joe Biden is to take office as US president.
Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under US President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.
Trump said at the time that the deal known formally as the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb.
Iran has always denied it wants such a weapon.
Trump on Friday retweeted reports on Fakhrizadeh's assassination, without commenting on it himself.
'Strike killers like lightning'
Hossein Dehghan, military adviser to Iran's supreme leader and a former senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accused Israel of trying to provoke a war through the assassination.
"In the last days of the political life of their gambling ally (Trump), the Zionists are trying to intensify pressure on Iran to create a full-blown war," he tweeted.
"We will strike the killers like lightning."
Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on International Relations said on Twitter that the "objective behind the killing wasn't to hinder (Iran's) nuclear programme but to undermine diplomacy."
She noted that recent high-level visits by US officials to Israel and Saudi Arabia "raised flags something being cooked up" to "provoke Iran & complicate Biden's diplomatic push."
The killing of Fakhrizadeh is the latest in a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran in recent years that the Islamic republic has blamed on Israel.
The New York Times reported earlier in November that Al-Qaeda's second-in-command was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington's behest.
The senior leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed in August along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden's son Hamza, the Times said, citing intelligence sources.
Iran said the report was based on "made-up information" and reaffirmed its denial of the presence of any of the group's members in the Islamic republic.
(With AFP inputs)