Iranian scientist blown up
Two men on a motorbike attached a magnetic bomb to the car of an Iranian professor working at a key nuclear facility, killing him and his driver yesterday.
The attack in Teheran bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear programme. It is certain to amplify Teheran's claims of clandestine operations by Western powers and their allies to halt Iran's nuclear weapons advances.
The blast killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemist and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, state TV reported.
State news agency Irna said Roshan had "organisational links" to Iran's nuclear agency, which suggests a direct role in key aspects of the programme.
Natanz is Iran's main uranium enrichment site but officials claimed this week that they were expanding some operations to an underground site south of Tehran, where more advanced equipment would be used.
The US and its allies are pressuring Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a key element of the nuclear programme that the West suspects is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Iran denies it is trying to make nuclear weapons, saying its programme is for peaceful purposes only, such as electricity generation and the production of radio isotopes for cancer radiation therapy.
Teheran has accused Israel's Mossad, the CIA and Britain's spy agency of engaging in an underground "terrorism" campaign against nuclear-related targets, including at least three assassinations since early 2010 and the release of a malicious computer virus known at Stuxnet in 2010 that temporarily disrupted the controls of Iranian centrifuges, key components in nuclear-fuel production.
All three countries have denied the Iranian accusations but Israeli officials have hinted of covert campaigns against Iran.
On Tuesday, Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a "critical year" for Iran, in part because of "things that happen to it unnaturally".
"Many bad things have been happening to Iran recently," said Mickey Segal, a former director of the Israeli military's Iranian intelligence department. "Iran is in a situation where pressure on it is mounting, and the latest assassination joins the pressure that the Iranian regime is facing."
Defiant Iranian authorities pointed the finger at archfoe Israel.
First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Israeli agents were behind the attack but would not "prevent progress" in what Iran claims are peaceful nuclear efforts.
Senior security official Safar Ali Baratloo was quoted as saying the attack was the work of Israel.
"The magnetic bomb is of the same types already used to assassinate our scientists," he said.
Roshan's driver died at a hospital from wounds sustained in the attack and an 85-year-old passer-by was wounded.