By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 25, 2009; A15
PARIS, Sept. 24 -- An Iranian exile group said Thursday that it has identified two previously unknown sites in and near Tehran where it says Iranian scientists are researching and trying to manufacture detonators for nuclear weapons.
The allegation, from the Paris-based Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, was designed to reinforce the exiles' long-standing contention that the Iranian government, despite repeated denials, has an active program to develop a nuclear arsenal under the aegis of the Defense Ministry and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The announcement was timed to coincide with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance at the U.N. General Assembly and with intensified pressure from the United States and other major powers for Iran to allow full inspection of its nuclear-related facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There was no way to confirm the authenticity of Thursday's allegation. But previous MEK information has given Western intelligence agencies tips about some Iranian nuclear activities or provided details about research sites.
Mehdi Abrishamchi, an MEK activist, said that as far as he knew, no Western governments were aware of the existence of the two sites.
As did Ahmadinejad in interviews Wednesday, Iran repeatedly has denied a desire to acquire nuclear weapons and says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy use. According to statements from Iranian officials, activities connected to making nuclear weapons were halted several years ago.
But Abrishamchi said the two sites house programs designed to research and produce high-explosive detonators for atomic bombs.
The information came from "dozens of sources at different levels of the Iranian regime's various organs" and was cross-checked with dozens more, he said in a statement.
Abrishamchi, a senior member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an MEK-run umbrella group, said the two sites were part of a complex known as METFAZ -- the Farsi acronym for Research Center for Explosion and Impact -- that apparently has been in operation for several years under the command of the Defense Ministry.
The first site, a research and administrative facility in eastern Tehran, was bought by the Defense Ministry under the name of Massoud Sadighi Divani, a senior ministry official, Abrishamchi said. Inside, scientists carry out computer simulations and other experiments to reach an effective design for high-explosive impact and penetration devices that could serve to detonate a nuclear weapon, he said.
The second site, about 20 miles to the east, is used to manufacture parts needed to construct the detonators, he said. Lying within a military zone with restricted access, it is surrounded by high concrete walls and includes tunnels dug into a nearby hill, he added.
Abrishamchi said the two sites basically continue work that was being done at Shian, a facility that was razed by Iranian authorities after being denounced by the MEK in 2003. He called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to try to inspect the sites as quickly as possible.