Bushehr - AP - Aug. 21, 2010
Bushehr nuclear reactor in southern Iran Photo by AP
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Gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated an Iranian nuclear physicist on Saturday, Iranian media reports said, in a killing that bore similarities to other slayings of scientists involved in the country's nuclear work in recent years.

The semi-official ISNA news agency identified the victim as Darioush Rezaei, a 35-year-old physics professor involved in Iran's nuclear program, and said he was shot dead in front of his home in Tehran. Iran's official IRNA news agency also reported the killing but had few details on the attack or the man's background.

Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered in recent years in attacks that Iran has blamed on the U.S.and Israel, which both accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of its civilian atomic energy program. Iran denies the accusations and says its program has entirely peaceful aims.

The semi-official Mehr news agency also identified the victim of Saturday's attack as a professor of physics who was involved in the nuclear program and said he was assassinated in front of his house in Bani Hashem street in Tehran.

The wife of the scientist was wounded in the attack and rushed to a hospital for treatment, Mehr reported, quoting a police official.

Despite UN and other sanctions, Iran has steadily moved ahead with its uranium enrichment work, the central aspect of its nuclear program and the process that is of deepest concern to the West because it can be used both to produce reactor fuel and material for nuclear warheads.

Iran insists it is only after reactor fuel, but the UN's nuclear watchdog agency has accused Iran of stalling its investigation into the work for years. Rezaei's expertise - neutron transport - lies at the heart of nuclear chain reactions in reactors and bombs.

In November, a pair of back-to-back bomb attacks in different parts of Tehran killed one nuclear scientist and wounded another. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the U.S.and Israel.

In those attacks, assailants on motorcycles attached magnetized bombs to the cars of two scientists as they drove to work. They detonated seconds later.

The man who survived that attack, Fereidoun Abbasi, is on a list of figures suspected of links to secret nuclear activities in a 2007 UN sanctions resolution, which put a travel ban and asset freeze on those listed.

Abbasi has since been named one of Iran's vice presidents and head of its nuclear agency.

The scientist killed in that attack had the same area of expertise as Rezaei.

At least two other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in recent years.

Iran's foreign minister said earlier this month that his country was ready to cooperate more closely with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency but only if it ends its investigation into allegations that Iran has secretly worked on a nuclear weapons program - a condition rejected by the head of the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran argues it has cooperated and answered all questions mandated by the plan governing the agency's probe.