TEHRAN — A scientist linked to Iran’s nuclear program was killed in his car by a bomb-wielding assailant on Wednesday, a bold rush-hour attack that experts say points to a further escalation in a covert campaign targeting the country’s atomic officials and institutions.
The precision hit in a northern Tehran neighborhood killed the 32-year-old chemical engineer employed at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility and brought to four the number of Iranian scientists killed by bombs in the past two years. No one asserted responsibility for the bombing, which prompted a swirl of accusations and denials as well as renewed concerns about worsening tensions between Iran and the West.
An Iranian nuclear expert was killed Wednesday by a magnetic bomb attached to his car, state media reported. Officials were quoted as accusing Israel in the attack, suspected as part of a covert effort to set back Iran's nuclear program. (Jan. 11)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz were provocative and dangerous. She also denied the U.S. had any role in the killing of an Iranian scientist. (Jan. 11)
Iranian officials immediately accused the United States and Israel of orchestrating the attack on scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, who was killed along with his bodyguard when an assailant on a motorcycle slapped a magnetic bomb on his car as he commuted to work, according to Iranian news reports. Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimiblamed the attack on “Zionists” and “those who claim they are against terrorism,” the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
The Obama administration denied involvement in the attack and distanced itself from the kind of lethal tactics used to kill the scientist.
“I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters shortly after the bombing was reported.
Israeli officials declined to address Iranian accusations linking Israeli intelligence operatives to the hit. “It is not our policy to comment on this sort of speculation when it periodically arises,” an Israeli official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under government ground rules.
But the series of attacks against scientists — all of them employed in fields or institutions relevant to Iran’s nuclear program — underscored the perception of a sophisticated covert campaign to disrupt Iran’s nuclear efforts and intimidate key officials and scientists, according to security analysts and Iran experts. The killing bore strong resemblance to two 2010 attacks on nuclear scientists and came on the same day as a ceremony for the second anniversary of the killing of another professor, Massoud Ali Mohammadi, in an explosion.
The scientists’ deaths are part of a pattern of attacks and apparent sabotage. In recent years, Iran has experienced an increase in mysterious explosions at military and industrial sites and gas transportation lines. A computer virus called Stuxnet also has damaged the nation’s nuclear program.
“The idea clearly is to try to disrupt operations that could lead to a nuclear weapon, and to make their scientists feel less secure and less capable of doing their work,” said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
Some current and former government officials worried that the tactics could backfire, bolstering Iran’s resolve to defy the West.