Rohani Accuses Israel of Killing Nuclear Scientist, Vowing Revenge 'At Proper Time'

Supreme Leader Khamenei calls for 'definitive punishment' of those behind the killing, while the European Union says it's 'a criminal act and runs counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for'

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Iran's President Hassan Rohani in Tehran, November 2020.
Iran's President Hassan Rohani in Tehran, November 2020. Credit: AFP

Iran's president on Saturday accused Israel of killing prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb program, state TV reported on Saturday.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “definitive punishment” of those behind the killing of a scientist linked to Tehran’s disbanded military nuclear program. Khamenei made the comment Saturday in a statement carried on his official website.

Delivering a statement on his official website, Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist.”

Iran's clerical and military rulers have threatened revenge for Friday's killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Iranian media said died in hospital after assassins gunned him down in his car near Tehran.

"Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance were stained with the blood of the mercenary usurper Zionist regime," a term for Israel, President Hassan Rohani said in a statement, according to state TV.

"The assassination of martyr Fakhrizadeh shows our enemies' despair and the depth of their hatred... His martyrdom will not slow down our achievements."

Iran will retaliate for the killing of its prominent nuclear scientist at "the proper time", Rohani said.

"Our people are wiser than to fall in the trap of the Zionist regime (Israel) ... Iran will surely respond to the martyrdom of our scientist at the proper time," he said.

Palestinian factions in Gaza condemned Fakhrizadeh's assassination, describing it as a terrorist attack with clear Israeli and American fingerprints.    

Hamas issued a statement saying the scientist's killing is part of a string of crimes carried out by Israel and the United States to prevent Iran from reaching scientific achievements. "The Zionist enemy seeks to continue the occupation and the settlement enterprise and preserve the cycle of bloodshed and reginal instability because it suits Israel," Hamas said.

Islamic Jihad said that the assassination is a desperate act of revenge for the support Iran extends to weaker nations, as well as its support for the Palestinians. "But [this] action won't change Iran's stance or make it weaker. Iran will face with determination the United States and Israel's aggression and terrorist attacks."

Also on Saturday, Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert after Iranian threats of retaliation, Channel 12 News reported.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the ministry did not comment on matters of security regarding its representatives abroad.

The European Union extended condemned the scientist's assassination and extended condolences to his family.

"On 27 November 2020 in Absard, Iran, an Iranian government official and several civilians were killed in a series of violent attacks. This is a criminal act and runs counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for," the EU said in a statement.

"The High Representative expresses his condolences to the family members of the individuals who were killed, while wishing a prompt recovery to any other individuals who may have been injured.

"In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for all parties to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid escalation which cannot be in anyone’s interest," the statement added.

Germany urged all sides to show restraint and avoid escalating tensions that could derail any talks on Iran's nuclear program.

"A few weeks before the new U.S. administration takes office, it is important to preserve the scope for talks with Iran so that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program can be resolved through negotiations," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"We therefore urge all parties to refrain from any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation," he said in an emailed statement.

The death of Fakhrizadeh could provoke confrontation between Iran and its foes in the last weeks of Donald Trump's U.S. presidency while complicating any effort by President-elect Joe Biden to revive the detente of Barack Obama's presidency.

On Friday, Iran said there are "serious indications of Israeli responsibility" in the assassination and it reserves the right to defend itself, the country wrote in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council on Friday.

"Warning against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests," Iran's UN envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, wrote in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said earlier that Israel was likely behind the assassination. "Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," he wrote on Twitter.

"Iran calls on international community – and especially EU – to end their shameful double standards and condemn this act of state terror."

The New York Times cited three intelligence officials who say Israel, who made no official statement on Fakhrizadeh's death, was behind the shooting attack. 

Israel declined to comment. In the United States, the White House, Pentagon, State Department and CIA all declined to comment. Biden's transition team also declined to comment.

Jack Khoury and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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