A remote-controlled bomb killed a Tehran University nuclear scientist on Tuesday, state media reported, in an attack which Iran blamed on the US and Israeli agents.
The blast which killed professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi occurred at a time of heightened tension in the Islamic Republic, seven months after a disputed presidential election plunged the major oil producer into turmoil.
It also coincided with a sensitive time in Iran’s row with the West over its nuclear ambitions, with major powers expected to meet in New York on Saturday to discuss possible new sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt its atomic work.
Such bombing attacks are rare in the Iranian capital.
“The bomb which killed Ali-Mohammadi, a nuclear scientist and a committed and revolutionary Tehran University professor, was detonated by a remote control,” state broadcaster IRIB said on its website.
Officials blamed Israel and the US for the bombing. “Signs of the triangle of wickedness by the Zionist regime (Israel), America and their hired agents, are visible in the terrorist act,” the foreign ministry said.
“Such terrorist acts and the apparent elimination of the country’s nuclear scientists will definitely not obstruct scientific and technological processes,” it added.
Western capitals suspect that Iran’s nuclear programme is aimed at developing bombs. But, Tehran denies this, saying it only seeks to generate electricity. Iranian media did not say whether Ali-Mohammadi was involved in the country’s nuclear programme. An Internet search shows a scientist of that name to have co-written research papers on the nature of “dark energy”, a highly theoretical area of cosmology.
Mark Fitzpatrick, chief proliferation analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Israel had in the past killed people working on nuclear programmes it perceives as hostile.
But, he said it was unlikely that Tuesday’s killing was “part of an Israeli or American strategy to deprive Iran of the brains of the (nuclear) enrichment process. There are by now too many scientists and engineers with the requisite expertise.”
The bombing follows the disappearance in June of Shahram Amiri, a university researcher working for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, during a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Fars News Agency quoted a foreign-based group, the Iran Monarchy Association, as claiming responsibility for the attack. It did not say how it obtained the statement.
Iranian universities have been the scene of rival protests by opposition campaigners and government supporters since the June poll, which the reformist opposition says was rigged to secure the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A senior Interior Ministry official, Mehdi Mohammadifar, said the motive for the bombing was under investigation.