Top scientist seen as architect of Iran's nuclear weapons program assassinated

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Ali Arouzi and Adela Suliman and Saphora Smith and Paul Goldman
·1 min read
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TEHRAN — A leading Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near the capital Tehran on Friday, Iran's Defense Ministry announced on state television.

"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote later on Twitter.

"This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," Zarif wrote, referring to Iran's arch-enemy Israel. "Iran calls on international community — and especially E.U. — to end their shameful double standards and condemn this act of state terror."

NBC News has not independently confirmed any details surrounding Fakhrizadeh's death.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office told NBC News they were "not commenting" on the reports.

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In the West, Fakhrizadeh was commonly referred to as Iran's Robert Oppenheimer, the American scientist who helped father the atomic bomb in 1945. Fakhrizadeh is a well-known figure and considered among the most important Iranian nuclear scientists in the country.

He has long been suspected by the West to have masterminded what they said was a covert atomic bomb program halted in 2003. Iran has consistently denied seeking to weaponize nuclear energy.

State media reported that Fakhrizadeh died in an attack in the Absard area of the province of Damavand, about 40 miles east of Tehran.

In 2018, Netanyahu gave a presentation in which he unveiled what he described as material stolen by Israel from an Iranian nuclear archive and showed a photograph of Fakhrizadeh.

"This is how Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of Project Amad ... Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh," Netanyahu said.

Ali Arouzi reported from Tehran, Adela Suliman reported from London.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.