AN IRANIAN university professor working at a key nuclear facility was killed in a car bomb attack yesterday.
The Iranian government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad immediately blamed the assassination on Israel and the United States of America.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, was the fourth Iranian scientist to be killed in similar attacks in Tehran in the past two years.
Iranian officials view the assassinations as part of a covert campaign of murder and cyber-sabotage led by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, aimed at disabling Iran’s nuclear programme.
It is argued such a covert strategy is less risky than airstrikes against Iran’s widely dispersed and heavily fortified nuclear sites, which might in any case cause oil prices to rocket and trigger retaliation on Israel and US bases in the region.
It is also seems intended to force Iran to make compromises over its nuclear ambitions. However, yesterday, Iran showed no sign of softening its stance.
An emergency session of the Tehran parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee was called yesterday in response to what was styled a “terrorist act”.
Referring to Israel and the US, Iran’s vice-president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, said “Zionists” and “those who claim they are against terrorism” were responsible for Mr Roshan’s death.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation vowed that “America and Israel’s heinous act” would not deflect Iran from developing nuclear technology.
The assassination during morning rush hour in north Tehran came amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, which it insists is peaceful in nature but the West believes is aimed at achieving weapons’ capability.
The US and European Union are escalating sanctions while Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation.
A third of the world’s tanker-borne oil passes through the narrow waterway at the mouth of the Gulf and the US and Britain have vowed to keep it open, by force if necessary.
Witnesses said two men on a motorbike attached a small magnetic bomb to Mr Roshan’s Peugeot 405 in a busy street outside a university campus, speeding off before the blast, which killed him instantly. A pedestrian was also killed and another person in the car badly injured.
The attack bore the hallmarks of the work of intelligence agencies capable of circumventing Iran’s security apparatus.
The containment of the blast to the vehicle suggested a charge designed to kill the occupants but also to limit serious injury to others.
Fars news agency said Mr Roshan, a chemical engineer, was the assistant to the head of procurement at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
Tehran’s deputy governor, Safar Ali Baratloo, said the device that killed Mr Roshan was the same as those used in the assassination of other scientists and was “the work of the Zionists”.
The attack was also a “conspiracy” to reduce the turnout at Iranian parliamentary elections on 2 March, he claimed.
Mr Roshan’s assassination coincided with the anniversary of an explosion that killed Tehran University professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi, 50, in 2010. Mr Roshan was due to attend a memorial service for him yesterday, Iran’s Mehr news agency said.
Israel and the US have denied previous Iranian allegations of a dirty war targeting Iran’s nuclear programme – including the release of the Stuxnet virus last year which damaged its uranium-enriching centrifuges. But Israeli officials have hinted about covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.
Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, was quoted telling a parliamentary panel on Tuesday that 2012 would be “a critical year” for Iran, in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally”.
Iran was condemned by the West this week for beginning uranium enrichment to a higher level at another site, the virtually impregnable underground bunker at Fordo near the holy city of Qom.