Bombs kill Iran nuclear scientist, wound another
TEHRAN, Iran — Assailants on motorcycles attached bombs to the cars of two nuclear scientists as they were driving to work in Tehran today, killing one and wounding the other, state media and officials said.
Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the man killed was involved in a major project at the country's chief nuclear agency, though he did not give specifics. Some Iranian media reported that the wounded scientist was a laser expert at Iran's Defense Ministry and one of the country's few top specialists in nuclear isotope separation.
State TV swiftly blamed Israel for the attacks. At least two other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in recent years in what Iran has alleged is part of a covert attempt by the West to damage its controversial nuclear program. One of those two was killed in an attack similar to those on Monday.
Nuclear chief Salehi, issued a stern warning as he rushed to hospital to see the surviving scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi.
"Don't play with fire. The patience of the Iranian nation has limits. If it runs out of patience, bad consequences will await enemies," the official news agency IRNA quoted Salehi as saying as he met Abbasi at his hospital bedside. Salehi, one of Iran's vice presidents, was apparently referring to Israel and the U.S., which Iran alleges are trying to damage its nuclear program.
Salehi also indicated that the scientist killed, Majid Shahriari, was involved in Iran's nuclear activities. Tehran's uranium enrichment program is at the center of a bitter row between Iran on one side and the U.S. and its allies on the other. Uranium enrichment is a process that can be used to produce both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
A number of world powers suspect Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons, an allegation the government denies. Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment has brought on multiple rounds of U.N. sanctions against the country.
Washington has strongly denied allegations of links to previous attacks. There are several active armed groups that oppose Iran's ruling clerics, but it's unclear whether they could have carried out the apparently coordinated bombings in the capital. Most anti-government violence in recent years has been isolated to Iran's provinces such the border with Pakistan where Sunni rebels are active and the western mountains near Iraq where Kurdish separatists operate.
The assailants, who escaped, drove by their targets on motorcycles and attached the bombs as the cars were moving. They exploded shortly thereafter, state TV reported.
Shahriari, the scientist who was killed, was a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. His wife, who was in the car with him, was wounded. Salehi, the nuclear chief who also heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Shahriari was one of his students and his death was a big loss.
"Shahriari had good cooperation with the AEOI. He was involved in one of the big AEOI projects which is a source of pride for the Iranian nation," IRNA quoted him as saying. He didn't provide any details on the project. But the AEOI is involved in Iran's uranium enrichment program.
"The enemy took our dearest flower, but must know that this nation, through resistance and all its might, will make efforts to remove problems and achieve its desires," Salehi said.
A second, separate attack in the capital Tehran wounded the nuclear physicist Abbasi. His wife was also in the car with him, and she was also wounded.
A pro-government website, mashreghnews.ir, said Abbasi held a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and was a laser expert at Iran's Defense Ministry and one of few top Iranian specialists in nuclear isotope separation.
Isotope separation is the process of concentrating specific isotopes of a chemical element by removing other isotopes, for example separating natural uranium from enriched uranium. This is a crucial process in the manufacture of uranium fuel for nuclear power stations, and is also required for the creation of uranium-based nuclear weapons.
The site said Abbasi has long been a member of the Revolutionary Guard, the country's most powerful military force. It said he was also a lecturer at Imam Hossein University, affiliated to the Guard.
The attacks bore close similarities to another in January that killed Tehran University professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a senior physics professor. He was killed when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded near his car as he was about to leave for work.
In 2007, state TV reported that nuclear scientist, Ardeshir Hosseinpour, died from gas poisoning. A one-week delay in the reporting of his death prompted speculation about the cause, including that Israel's Mossad spy agency was to blame.
Iran has continued to portray its nuclear program as being under constant pressure from the West and its allies. These include alleged abductions of nuclear officials and, more recently, a computer worm known as Stuxnet that experts say was calibrated to destroy uranium-enrichment centrifuges by sending them spinning out of control. Iran says its experts stopped Stuxnet from affecting systems at its nuclear facilities.
The latest attacks come a day after the release of internal State Department cables by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks, including several that vividly detail Arab fears over Iran's nuclear program and its growing political ambitions in the region.
Arab worries over Iran often have been expressed in public in careful, diplomatic language by officials in the Gulf and elsewhere. The messages obtained by Wikileaks, however, appear to reflect the urgency of the concerns and the impression that a U.S.-led attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would be welcomed by some leaders of Arab nations in the Middle East, especially the oil-rich states that neighbor Iran in the Persian Gulf.