Iranian Nuclear Physicist Killed in Bombing

Attacks on Iranian officials in remote provinces aren’t uncommon. But a bombing in Tehran, the capital, is rare. The target – seen as a longtime regime insider who appeared to veer toward supporting the opposition – immediately raised suspicion among colleagues and students that the attack was politically motivated.

Mr. Masoud Ali Mohammadi, who worked at Tehran University, “was killed in a booby-trapped motorbike blast” in the city’s northern Qeytariyeh district, state-run Press TV reported. It showed pictures from the scene of the blast, saying windows in nearby buildings had been shattered by the force of the explosion. Local media reports say the bomb was attached to a motorcycle parked outside Mr. Mohammadi’s home, although one agency said it had been planted in a rubbish bin. Mr. Mohammadi, 50, had just left his house on his way to work when the remote-controlled explosion went off. Police sealed off the area and launched an investigation into the incident. The semi-official Fars news agency said President Mahmoud Abmadinejab had ordered “all the country’s intelligence and security services to use all their capabilities to identify and arrest those behind the killing.” (Reuters)

Reports in the Iranian media described Mr. Mohammadi as a nuclear physics, but it appears that his field of study was quantum theory. One university official said Mr. Mohammadi was not a political figure. But other reports said his name appeared on a list of academics backing opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousoui before the 2009 presidential election. Although Mr. Mohammadi was on this list of opposition supporters, a Tehran University official told the Mehr news agency that he was not actively involved in politics. Mr. Mohammadi also had no involvement in Iran’s atomic agency. In 1992, Mr. Mohammadi received the first doctorate in nuclear physics to be awarded in Iran, from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology.

Iranian state media have accused Israel and the U.S. of being involved in the attack. The U.S. state department dismissed the allegation as “absurd”. Israel has refrained from comment. An Iranian cabinet statement claimed that “America’s spying and intelligence agents from one side abduct some Iranian citizens… and on the other side their treacherous agents kill an Iranian citizen inside the country.” (Reuters) Iran often accuses the U.S. and Israel of meddling in its affairs.

Not long after the killing, Iranian media were reporting a claim of responsibility from the Royal Association of Iran, which Press TV characterized as an “obscure monarchist group that seeks to reestablish the Pahllovi reign in Iran,” a reference to the Shah of Iran’s regime which was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some conversations have suggested that the People’s Mujahiden Organization – a banned militant group opposed to the Tehran government – was involved. The group denied the accusation.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said that “in the initial investigation, signs of the triangle of wickedness by the Zionist regime, America, and their hired agents, are visible in the terrorist attack.” (BBC) The equipment and system of the bomb used in the attack had been related to a number of foreign intelligence agencies, particularly Israel’s Mossad.

No one has officially claimed responsibility for the blast.

Tensions have been high in Iran since the disputed election led to mass protests against the government. To say that there has been much controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities would be an understatement. Tehran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, but the U.S. and other Western nations suspect it of seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said this murder would not affect Iran’s nuclear program, emphasizing such “terrorist moves and apparent omission of Iranian nuclear scientist will definitely cause no obstacle in the way of the country’s scientific and technological development. Rather they will speed it up”

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