An Iranian professor of nuclear physics was killed by a bomb blast from a remote controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle — causing an Iranian spokesman to immediately blame the United States and the “Zionist regime” in Israel.
But the true source remains somewhat murky once it became known that responsibility for the murder was claimed by the Royal Association of Iran, a group that reportedly wants to re-establish a monarchy in a country once famous for the Shah of Iran.
All of this taken together underscores a key point: on several levels, Iran is a country beset by tensions and deeply in crisis.
A remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle killed an Iranian professor of nuclear physics outside his home in northern Tehran on Tuesday, state media reported, blaming the United States and Israel.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. One state broadcaster, IRIB, quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that “in the initial investigation, signs of the triangle of wickedness by the Zionist regime, America and their hired agents are visible in the terrorist act,” Reuters reported.
The authorities called the killing of the scientist, Massoud Ali Mohammadi, an assassination carried out by terrorists but did not say who was believed to be responsible. The professor taught neutron physics at Tehran University, the English-language Press TV said, but it was not clear whether he was part of Iran’s contentious nuclear enrichment program.
The broadcaster called the professor a “staunch supporter of the Islamic Revolution” of 1979 that overthrew the Shah and initiated three decades of theocratic rule.
Since flawed presidential elections last June, Iran has been gripped by its deepest political crisis since 1979, pitting supporters of the victorious President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against opponents who call his regime illegitimate. News reports said Mr. Mohammadi’s name had been on a list of 240 university teachers published on reformist Web sites before the election and identified as supporters of the main opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi. But there was no formal confirmation from Tehran of his more recent political position.
CNN provides some more details about the group claiming responsibility and the scientist:
News agencies reported conflicting accounts of the death. Fars News Agency said the bomb was placed in a garbage can outside the professor’s house. Press TV said the bomb was placed inside a motorbike parked outside his house in the Qeytariyeh neighborhood in northern Tehran and was remotely detonated.
Not long after the killing, Iranian media were reporting a claim of responsibility from the Royal Association of Iran, which Press TV characterized as an “obscure monarchist group that seeks to reestablish the Pahlavi reign in Iran,” a reference to the Shah of Iran’s regime toppled in 1979.
After the monarchy was overthrown, Ayatollah Khomeini seized power declaring Iran an Islamic Republic with himself as supreme leader.
Press TV said the Royal Assocation of Iran is headed by Foroud Fouladvand, and is responsible for a deadly bombing in the southern city of Shiraz in April 2008 that killed 13 people and wounded hundreds more.
Fars reported that “members of this association had infiltrated into the country and had been active in the post-election riots of last June and played a part in setting public property on fire and inciting people to riot.
“It had been established during trials (of some of the members of this association) it had been established that they were in charge of showing people how to make Molotov cocktails and setting public places on fire.”
Tehran’s Prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said Mohammadi taught neutron nuclear physics at Tehran University, Press TV reported, and the network said Mohammadi was a staunch supporter of the Islamic Revolution.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that the United States swiftly rejected Iranian allegations that it was somehow involved in the assassination:
The United States rejected as “absurd” an allegation by Tehran Tuesday that Washington had a hand in a bomb attack that killed an Iranian nuclear scientist, a State Department spokesman said.
“Charges of US involvement are absurd,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, after Iran’s foreign ministry accused US and Israeli “mercenaries” of being behind the bomb plot.
The Christian Science Monitor puts this into a larger context:
A nuclear physicist was assassinated in Tehran on Tuesday by a remotely controlled bomb, Iranian news outlets reported. The reports made thinly veiled suggestions the attack could have been carried out by the United Sates or Israel. The physicist’s murder comes amid increasing speculation that Iran has been making nuclear weapons and ahead of a meeting this week by major powers on whether to impose further sanctions the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s state-run Press TV described Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, a lecturer at Tehran University, as a “staunch supporter” of the 1979 Islamic revolution –and thus the current regime. It said a booby-trapped motorbike exploded near his home and that police were investigating the “terrorist case.”
Press TV correspondent Amir Mehdi Kazemi, reporting from the scene of the assassination, quoted security officials as saying that the equipment and system of the bomb used in the attack had been related to a number of foreign intelligence agencies, particularly Israel’s Mossad.
The reporting said the attack follows the June disappearance of another Iranian nuclear scientist and that authorities believe he was detained by the US. “It seems the kidnap and assassination of Iranian scientists is on the agenda of the United States,” it added.
NPR’s blog has a good roundup HERE.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.