DUBAI • An Iranian scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb programme was killed in an ambush near Teheran yesterday, an incident that is likely to provoke a confrontation between Iran and its foes in the last weeks of Mr Donald Trump's presidency.
The military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to strike against the killers of Dr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died of injuries in hospital after armed assassins fired on his car, state media reported.
"We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action," tweeted Mr Hossein Dehghan, also a military commander.
The Tasnim and Fars news agencies, both close to security sources, said the attack took place in Absard city in Teheran province's eastern Damavand county, with "terrorists bombing a car before shooting at Dr Fakhrizadeh's car".
"Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving him, and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle," a statement by Iran's armed forces carried by state media said.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the killing as "an act of state terror".
Dr Fakhrizadeh is thought to have headed what the United Nations nuclear watchdog and US intelligence services believe was a coordinated covert nuclear weapons programme in Iran that was shelved in 2003.
Iran has long denied seeking to weaponise nuclear energy.
Whoever is responsible for the attack, it is certain to escalate tension between Iran and the United States in the final weeks of Mr Trump's presidency.
Mr Trump, who lost his re-election bid on Nov 3 and leaves office on Jan 20, has repeatedly accused Iran of secretly seeking nuclear weapons.
He pulled the US out of a deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. President-elect Joe Biden has said he would restore it. A US official confirmed earlier this month that Mr Trump had sought from military aides a plan for a possible strike on Iran, but had decided against it at that time.
Dr Fakhrizadeh had the rare distinction of being the only Iranian scientist named in the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 2015 "final assessment" of open questions about Iran's nuclear programme and whether it was aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA's report said he oversaw activities "in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran's) nuclear programme" within the so-called Amad (Hope) plan. Israel has described the Amad plan as Iran's secret nuclear weapons programme, and said it seized a large chunk of an Iranian nuclear "archive" detailing its work.
"Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh," Israeli Prime Mi-nister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a 2018 speech revealing details from the archive, naming Dr Fakhrizadeh as Amad's chief.
Mr Netanyahu said that after Amad was shut down, Dr Fakhrizadeh continued working at an organisation within Iran's Defence Ministry on "special projects".