Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reuters - Iran blames U.S., Israel in killing of scientist

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Iran blames U.S., Israel in killing of scientist

Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010 3:42PM UTC

By Fredrik Dahl

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A remote-controlled bomb killed a Tehran University scientist on Tuesday, official media reported, in an attack which Iran blamed on its two arch enemies, the United States and Israel.

Iranian officials and state media described slain professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi as a nuclear scientist, but a spokesman said he did not work for the Atomic Energy Organization at the center of Iran's disputed nuclear program.

A list of his publications on Tehran University's website suggested his specialization was theoretical particle physics, not nuclear energy, a Western physics professor said.

The bombing -- a rare attack in the Iranian capital -- 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.

Officials blamed Israel and the United States. "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.

A State Department official in Washington said charges of U.S. involvement were absurd.

Western capitals suspect that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing bombs. Tehran denies this, saying it only seeks to generate electricity.

BOOBY-TRAPPED MOTORBIKE

English-language Press TV said 50-year-old Ali-Mohammadi was killed on Tuesday morning in a northern part of the capital by a booby-trapped motorcycle as he was leaving his home.

It showed footage of blood stains, broken glass and other debris at the scene, with what appeared to be the dead man in a body bag taken away on a stretcher.

Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said Ali-Mohammadi "did not have any cooperation (work) with the Organization and therefore he had not played a role in the Atomic Energy Organisation's activities."

State broadcaster IRIB described him as a "committed and revolutionary" professor, suggesting he backed the government of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Fars quoted one of his students as saying he had worked with the elite Revolutionary Guards until 2003.

But an opposition website, Jaras, said he was an opposition supporter whose name was among hundreds of other academics who issued a statement in favor of moderate candidate Mirhossein Mousavi during the campaign for last June's election.

Even if he had worked on Iran's nuclear program, analysts questioned how much his death could set back Tehran's work.

"I have no reason to think that this is part of an Israeli or American strategy to deprive Iran of the brains of the enrichment process," said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief proliferation analyst at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. "There are by now too many scientists and engineers with the requisite expertise."

STRATFOR, a global intelligence firm, said Ali-Mohammadi's importance in Iran's nuclear activities was unclear. But the attack will make Iran "even more intransigent on the nuclear issue as the Islamic Republic cannot be seen as caving into pressure, especially not from the West and Israel," it said.

The bombing follows the disappearance in June of Shahram Amiri, a university researcher working for the Atomic Energy Organization, during a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Amiri vanished three months before Iran disclosed the existence of its second uranium enrichment site, near the city of Qom. In December Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of handing Amiri over to the United States.

Fars quoted a foreign-based group, the Iran Monarchy Association, as claiming responsibility for Tuesday's bombing. It did not say how it obtained the statement.

Iran has been convulsed by its most serious domestic unrest since the Islamic revolution in 1979, as protests by opposition supporters against the election result have turned violent. Authorities deny opposition allegations that voting was rigged.

Eight people were killed in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters on Ashura, the day of ritual Shi'ite Muslim mourning that fell on December 27.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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