Iran’s defense minister on Monday vowed to find and punish those responsible for the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, while another senior official offered a dramatically different account of the attack from initial reports in the Iranian state news media.
“We pursue the criminals to the end,” Defense Minister Brig. General Amir Hatami, said in a mourning ceremony Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was shot dead outside Tehran last Friday while traveling with his bodyguards.
Iranian state media initially reported that gunmen killed Mr. Fakhrizadeh in a roadside ambush after a truck exploded – and even interviewed a supposed witness. But during Monday’s funeral, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, said Israel carried out the attack using sophisticated “electronic devices”.
He did not give details, but the Fars News Agency, a branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, said the assassination was carried out with a remotely operated machine gun.
The new version of events, which could not be immediately confirmed, appeared to represent a coordinated damage control effort by the country’s security apparatus after a public and official reaction to the embarrassing assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, who , according to Western intelligence officials, was carried out by Israel.
During the funeral at the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense, photographs and footage showed a procession carrying Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, covered in flowers and draped in the Iranian flag.
It was the last expression of fury at the death of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, who for two decades was the mastermind behind what US and Israeli intelligence services have described as Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program, though Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
But on Monday, General Hatami said the death of the scientist, whom he called a martyr, would make him a role model for Iranian youth and only strengthen the nation’s resolve to move forward with his work. .
Although he did not specify how, Gen. Hatami said the country would take to heart the orders of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to punish the perpetrators and commanders behind the murder. Tehran is assembling an elite group to capture and prosecute the perpetrators, Iranian justice chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday. Members include the Attorney General and some members of the armed forces and intelligence services.
“Once again the evil hands of global arrogance and Zionist mercenaries have been stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, echoing phrases Iranian officials use often with reference to Israel. He added that the country would respond “in due course”.
After the threat, Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert on Saturday, Israeli newspaper N12 News reported. The country’s foreign ministry said it would not comment on embassy security issues.
Calls for retribution have heightened fears that the situation will escalate. Over the weekend, Germany urged all parties to refrain from retaliatory action in the Trump administration’s final weeks to preserve hope for a resumption of nuclear program negotiations Iranian once Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes over the presidency.
As part of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – a milestone in the Obama administration’s foreign policy – Tehran has agreed to strict restrictions on its ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it needs. wanted it. President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed strict sanctions against Iran.
Mr Biden is expected to try to restore the deal, possibly adding limits to Iran’s production and export of sophisticated weapons, but the murder threatens to complicate that effort. Iran’s reaction over the next few weeks is likely to determine whether it succeeds, analysts say.
Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York.