TEHRAN (AFP) – A leading Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran on Tuesday in a rare bomb attack that the government quickly blamed on “mercenaries” in the pay of archfoes the United States and Israel.
The killing in broad daylight comes amid an increasingly bitter standoff between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear drive, which the West suspects is masking an atomic weapons programme.
Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a particle physics professor at prestigious Tehran University, died when a bomb strapped to a motorcycle was triggered by remote control outside his home in northern Tehran, state media said.
“One can see in preliminary investigations signs of evilness by the triangle of the Zionist regime, America and their mercenaries in Iran in this terrorist incident,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.
The United States dismissed the allegations out of hand.
“Charges of US involvement are absurd,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington.
Tehran’s chief prosecutor too implicated the US and Israel, saying their respective intelligence services were likely behind the attack.
“Given the fact that Massoud Ali Mohammadi was a nuclear scientist, the CIA and Mossad services and agents most likely have had a hand in it,” Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told the state broadcaster’s news service.
Dolatabadi had earlier told the ISNA news agency that Ali Mohammadi died when a booby-trapped motorbike parked outside his house exploded as he was getting into his car.
Tehran University’s Basij, or voluntary Islamist student militia, said Ali Mohammadi’s named had been included on an international blacklist linked to Iran’s atomic drive.
“Dr Massoud Ali Mohammadi, whose name was on the list of sanctioned individuals … was one of the outstanding professors of Tehran University’s physics faculty,” the statement said, as cited by the official IRNA news agency.
Sanctions have been imposed variously by the United Nations, United States and European countries on individuals and institutions linked to Iran’s nuclear programme but the students did not say on which list Ali Mohammadi’s name appears.
Bomb attacks are rare in Iran although several security officials and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards have been killed in bombings by rebels in restive Sistan-Baluchestan province in the east of the country.
A witness told AFP that Tuesday’s explosion was a “strong blast breaking windows in neighbouring houses and cars.”
Iran’s state-run Arabic-language television Al-Alam identified Mohammadi as a “hezbollahi” teacher — a term used for staunch supporters of the Iranian regime.
“This assassination may have been carried out by the Hypocrites (Iran’s exiled People’s Mujahideen opposition) or planned by the Zionist regime,” Al-Alam said.
The opposition group denied any involvement in the attack.
“The NCRI has no connection with this murder,” a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which includes the banned People’s Mujahideen, told AFP in Paris.
Iranian authorities have consistently accused archfoes the United States and Israel of seeking to foment unrest in Iran and the two countries have never ruled out a military strike to thwart Iran’s controversial nuclear drive.
None of the reports said whether Ali Mohammadi was connected to Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme and a colleague described him as non-political.
“He was a prominent full professor but he was not a political figure. He had no political activity,” Ali Maghari, who heads the faculty of sciences at Tehran university, told Mehr news agency.
However, Ali Mohammadi’s name appeared on a list of academics backing Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi for the disputed June 12 presidential election, which gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term.
The opposition claims the vote was massively rigged in Ahmadinejad’s favour and has for the past six months been staging anti-government protests at every opportunity, many of which have been broken up by police who have arrested hundreds of demonstrators.
Iran has been under international pressure to halt its sensitive uranium enrichment programme which is at the centre of fears about Iran’s ambitions as the process which makes nuclear fuel can also be used to make atom bombs. Related articles: World powers to meet on Iran sanctions
Despite three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions, Iran has continued to expand its nuclear programme, which it insists is for peaceful purposes only.
The US, Russia, China, Britain France and Germany will meet late this week to discuss a further round of sanctions against Iran, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week.