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Iran Vows Revenge for Slain Scientist  11/28 08:46

   

   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader on Saturday called for the 
"definitive punishment" of those behind the killing of a scientist linked to 
Tehran's disbanded military nuclear program, a slaying the Islamic Republic has 
blamed on Israel.

   Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian scientists a decade ago amid 
tensions over Tehran's nuclear program, has yet to comment on the killing 
Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. However, the attack bore the hallmarks of a 
carefully planned, military-style ambush.

   The slaying threatens to renew tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the 
waning days of President Donald Trump's term, just as President-elect Joe Biden 
has suggested his administration could return to Tehran's nuclear deal with 
world powers from which Trump earlier withdrew. The Pentagon announced early 
Saturday that it sent the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier back into the Mideast.

   In a statement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh 
"the country's prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist."

   Khamenei said Iran's first priority after the killing was the "definitive 
punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it." He did not elaborate.

   Speaking to a meeting of his government's coronavirus task force earlier 
Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel for the killing.

   Rouhani said that Fakhrizadeh's death would not stop its nuclear program, 
something Khamenei said as well. Iran's civilian nuclear program has continued 
its experiments and now enriches uranium up to 4.5%, far below weapons-grade 
levels of 90%.

   But analysts have compared Fakhrizadeh to being on a par with Robert 
Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the U.S.' Manhattan Project in World War II 
that created the atom bomb.

   "We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper 
time," Rouhani said.

   He added: "The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the 
Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos."

   Friday's attack happened in Absard, a village just east of the capital that 
is a retreat for the Iranian elite. Iranian state television said an old truck 
with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a sedan carrying 
Fakhrizadeh.

   As Fakhrizadeh's sedan stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the 
car with rapid fire, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said.

   Fakhrizadeh died at a hospital after doctors and paramedics couldn't revive 
him. Others wounded included Fakhrizadeh's bodyguards. Photos and video shared 
online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes in the windshield and blood 
pooled on the road.

   Hours after the attack, the Pentagon announced it had brought the USS Nimitz 
aircraft carrier back into the Middle East, an unusual move as the carrier 
already spent months in the region. It cited the drawdown of U.S. forces in 
Afghanistan and Iraq as the reason for the decision, saying "it was prudent to 
have additional defensive capabilities in the region to meet any contingency."

   The attack comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of 
Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari that Tehran also blamed on Israel. 
That and other targeted killings happened at the time that the so-called 
Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, destroyed 
Iranian centrifuges.

   Those assaults occurred at the height of Western fears over Iran's nuclear 
program. Tehran long has insisted its program is peaceful. However, Fakhrizadeh 
led Iran's so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a 
military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The 
International Atomic Energy Agency says that "structured program" ended in 2003.

   IAEA inspectors monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of the now-unraveling 
nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of 
uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

   After Trump's 2018 withdrawal from the deal, Iran has abandoned all those 
limits. Experts now believe Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to make at 
least two nuclear weapons if it chose to pursue the bomb. Meanwhile, an 
advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility exploded 
in July in what Tehran now calls a sabotage attack.

   Fakhrizadeh, born in 1958, had been sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council 
and the U.S. for his work on AMAD. Iran always described him as a university 
physics professor. A member of the Revolutionary Guard, Fakhrizadeh had been 
seen in pictures in meetings attended by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali 
Khamenei, a sign of his importance in Iran's theocracy.

   In recent years, U.S. sanctions lists name him as heading Iran's 
Organization for Defensive Innovation and Research. The State Department 
described that organization last year as working on "dual-use research and 
development activities, of which aspects are potentially useful for nuclear 
weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems."

   Iran's mission to the U.N., meanwhile, described Fakhrizadeh's recent work 
as "development of the first indigenous COVID-19 test kit" and overseeing 
Tehran's efforts at making a possible coronavirus vaccine.

 
 
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