WASHINGTON – A top Iranian nuclear scientist was murdered near Tehran. The Iranian government confirmed this on Friday, claiming Israel was behind the murder without providing any evidence yet.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, known as the "father of the Iranian bomb", died of injuries after armed bombers shot his car. This emerges from reports from Iranian media that have not been independently verified by NBC News.
State media shared photos of a black Nissan sedan with multiple bullet holes through the windshield and blood on the road next to the car door. No group immediately took responsibility for Friday's attack.
A view shows the location of the attack in which well-known Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed outside Tehran, Iran on November 27, 2020.
WANA via Reuters
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the murder on Twitter, claiming "serious evidence" of Israeli involvement.
Iranian Army Commander-in-Chief Abdolrahim Mousavi said the Islamic Republic reserves the right to take revenge and accused the US and Israel of killing the scientists.
Fakhrizadeh's death comes days before the 10th anniversary of the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, whom Iran also accused Israel.
The Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.
The Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council declined to comment. However, President Donald Trump retweeted an article and comment about Fakhrizadeh's death.
Little is known about Fakhrizadeh, a senior Revolutionary Guard officer who has long been regarded as Iran's top nuclear scientist overseeing the regime's secret weapons programs.
In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of continuing to develop nuclear weapons, saying that Fakhrizadeh was working on "special projects" at the Iranian Ministry of Defense.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a picture of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 30, 2018.
Amir Cohen | Reuters
"Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh," said Netanyahu at the time.
Fakhrizadeh's death is expected to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States, which have soared under the Trump administration following Washington's exit from the landmark Iranian nuclear deal.
The stalemate with Iran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will deliver a speech on January 10, 2019 during a ceremony in Tehran, Iran.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] brokered by the Obama administration lifted sanctions against Iran, which paralyzed its economy and roughly halved its oil exports. In return for the sanctions easing, Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program until the terms expire in 2025.
In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the JCPOA. Trump called it the "worst deal ever".
The president previously said he wanted to reach a broader deal with Iran that would tighten its nuclear and ballistic missile work and suppress the regime's role in regional proxy wars. Tehran has refused to negotiate as long as the US sanctions remain in place.
After Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal, other signatories to the pact – France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China – tried to keep the deal alive.
In October, the United States unilaterally reimposed United Nations sanctions on Tehran in a snapback process that other members of the United States Security Council had previously stated Washington was not empowered to do because it was removed from the 2018 nuclear deal withdrew.
Relations between the US and Iran deteriorated again in the summer of 2019 after a series of attacks in the Persian Gulf.
In June, US officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the plane was over its territory.
That strike came a week after the US held Iran responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.
The US imposed new sanctions in June on Iranian military leaders who were held responsible for shooting down the drone. The measures were also aimed at blocking financial resources for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tensions rose again in September last year when the US blamed Iran for strikes in Saudi Arabia at the world's largest crude oil processing plant and oil field.
This attack forced the kingdom to cut its manufacturing operations in half and sparked the largest surge in crude oil prices in decades and renewed concerns about a new war in the Middle East. Iran claims it was not behind the attacks.
Earlier this year, the United States launched an air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran's chief military officer.
Iranian mourners gather in his hometown of Kerman on January 7, 2020 for the final stage of the funeral procession for the assassinated General Qasem Soleimani.
Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images