A top Iranian security official has accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to remotely kill a scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear programme two decades ago.
Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, made the comment at the funeral for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, where Iran’s defence minister separately vowed to continue the man’s work “with more speed and more power”.
Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has declined to comment on the attack.
Mr Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s so-called AMAD programme, which 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 programme” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.
Israel insists Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and research into other technologies. Iran has maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Mr Shamkhani’s remarks drastically change the story of Mr Fakhrizadeh’s killing on Friday. Authorities initially said a truck exploded and then gunmen opened fire on the scientist, killing him.
State TV’s English-language Press TV earlier reported a weapon recovered from the scene of the attack bore “the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry”. State TV’s Arabic-language channel, Al-Alam, claimed the weapons used were “controlled by satellite”, a claim also made on Sunday by the semi-official Fars news agency.
None of the outlets immediately offered evidence supporting their claims.
“Unfortunately, the operation was a very complicated operation and was carried out by using electronic devices,” Mr Shamkhani told state TV. “No individual was present at the site.”
Mr Shamkhani also blamed the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq as well for “having a role in this”, without elaborating.
The service for Mr Fakhrizadeh took place at an outdoor portion of Iran’s Defence Ministry in Tehran, with officials including Revolutionary Guard chief General Hossein Salami, the Guard’s Quds Force leader General Esmail Ghaani, civilian nuclear programme chief Ali Akbar Sahei and intelligence minister Mamoud Alavi. They sat apart from each other and wore masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Defence minister General Amir Hatami gave a speech after kissing Mr Fakhrizadeh’s casket and putting his forehead against it. He said Mr Fakhrizadeh’s killing would make Iranians “more united, more determined”.
“For the continuation of your path, we will continue with more speed and more power,” Mr Hatami said in comments aired live by state television.
Mr Hatami also criticised countries that had not condemned Mr Fakhrizadeh’s killing, warning: “This will catch up with you someday.”
Overnight, the United Arab Emirates, which just reached a normalisation deal with Israel, issued a statement condemning “the heinous assassination”. The UAE, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, warned it “could further fuel conflict in the region”.
Last year, the UAE found itself in the middle of an escalating series of incidents between Iran and the US. Though long suspicious of Iran’s nuclear programme, the Emirates has said it wants to de-escalate the crisis. The UAE just started a passenger air service to Israel and Israelis are expected to take holidays in the country over Hanukkah in the coming days.
Mr Hatami also called the nuclear arsenal of the US — and the stockpile of atomic bombs Israel long has been suspected of holding — “the most dangerous threat against humanity”.
Mourners later buried Mr Fakhrizadeh in the courtyard of Imamzadeh Saleh mosque in north Tehran.