A killer robot? The assassination of the Iranian scientist is fueling conflicting accounts

With the assassination of one of the top nuclear scientists this week, Iranian officials sought to rewrite the attack as a science-fiction episode: Israel executed it entirely remotely, firing bullets from an automated machine gun parked in a parked Nissan at a single assassin on the scene.

Even the hard-lined ones teased the new spin.

“Why don’t you just say Tesla made the Nissan?” Did you drive by yourself, park alone, drop the shots and explode on your own? one hardline social media account said. “Do you doubt, like us, this narrative?”

Since the scientist was assassinated on Friday, conflicting reports in the official media about the escape or even existence of a hit team, along with claims by the Interior Ministry’s advance warnings about the attack, have revealed tensions among rival Iranian intelligence agencies. tried to avoid the charge of a faulty security breach.

Iranian officials have vowed to avenge the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior Defense Ministry official. The prospect of a counterattack against Israel or the West could hamper the efforts of the incoming Biden government to revive the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Mr Fakhrizadeh, who oversaw Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was an obvious target. Israeli leaders have publicly highlighted it as a threat, and the elite of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has made its defense a top priority.

His death was at least the fourth murder of high-ranking individuals under the protection of Iranian security services, beginning with an American drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Suleimani in January.

The failure to grasp Mr Fakhrizadeh’s killers has stirred up a scandal over the government’s inability to prevent the assassination itself. The Iranians have ridiculed new accounts of fully automated executions on social media in an attempt to minimize disruption to the clean escape of the killers.

Israeli officials, who have publicly acknowledged their responsibility, refused to comment on competing accounts of the murder.

The use of a remote-controlled machine gun was not ruled out. The Israeli army has such weapons and they have been deployed elsewhere. Some Iranian reports said as early as Saturday that such a weapon had been used in Friday’s attack in an afternoon ambush on a country road east of Tehran.

But according to early official Iranian reports and witness accounts, there was an armed battle between Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards and up to a dozen attackers. Current and former Israeli officials, on the other hand, boasted that Israeli intelligence agencies have extensive experience in safely ousting assassins from hostile areas, including Iran.

Israel is believed to have killed at least five Iranian scientists between 2007 and 2012 as part of an effort to derail Iran’s nuclear program, which Israeli officials see as an existential threat. Tehran credibly claimed to have caught only one of the perpetrators, one who confessed on television in 2010 that he had been trained in Israel to set up a motorcycle bomb that killed a scientist when he left his garage.

The agents behind the other assassinations and some major operations are believed to have all fled.

The role of the remote-controlled machine gun as part of a complex attack by a group of assassins was first reported over the weekend in a murder report published online by Javad Mogouyi, a documentary filmmaker for the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His father and compatriot are members of the wing of the organization in charge of protecting Mr Fakhrizadeh, and Mr Mogouyi’s account was accepted as credible by several Iranian news organizations at the time.

Before dozens of assassins arrived, Mr. Mogouyi wrote that a Nissan was parked at the roundabout, packed with explosives and armed with an automated machine gun. The remote-controlled weapon first opened fire and distracted Fakhrizadeh and his bodyguards while the assassins were waiting.

An autonomous machine gun as described has been used by the Israeli army since 2010. Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The weapon includes a built-in optical system for aiming and photographs. Its name rhymes in Hebrew: “you see-shoot”.

According to Israeli news, citing a chief intelligence official, the army killed Palestinians trying to cross Israel from Gaza with a gun.

The allegations that the murder was carried out entirely with a robotic weapon appeared to come from the Revolutionary Guards. The two news agencies controlled by the corps, Fars News and Tasnim, first published the claims on Sunday.

Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the National Security Council, echoed the report in an interview with Iranian state television on Monday. He also claimed that Iranian intelligence already knew in advance that an attack on Israel by the scientist would take place on the road where it took place and that the armed opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq was also involved.

“Definitely,” Mr. Shamkhani said.

On Tuesday, a government spokesman said in an attempt to pass on the revolutions of the Revolutionary Guard, a government spokesman said the Intelligence Ministry had warned the scientist’s security team of “concrete and accurate details” weeks ago. a possible assassination, including possible locations.

“This crime could have been prevented if security protocols had been followed and they would have been a little more cautious,” spokesman Ali Rabeie said at a news conference.

In the noise of the conflicting allegations, the report on fully automated murders seemed little, as it contradicted the reports of early eyewitnesses broadcast in the state media as well as the remarks of the family members of the murdered scientist.

Immediately afterwards, an eyewitness, unidentified by name, said he saw Nissan explode and described the intense weapons battle between bodyguards and assassins.

“An armed man sat on the road and started shooting at my direction,” said the witness, who estimated there were about half a dozen assassins. “I immediately put my car in reverse, but he kept shooting.

Other original reports said one of the bodyguards, Hamed Asghari, threw himself at the scientist and took four bullets from the assassins. Family members said the guard survived but was in critical condition.

In an interview with state television Saturday night, Fakhrizadeh’s son, Hamed, said he arrived at the scene within minutes and his mother had been in the car with her father from the moment of the attack until she died in her arms.

“It wasn’t an assassination, but a war zone,” the boy said, approving reports of two-way shootings with the killers.

The widow of another murdered scientist told state television that she met Ms. Fakhrizadeh after the attack and saw cracked wounds on her face and body. The widow Shohreh Piran said Ms. Fakhrizadeh described it as “constant shots firing over our heads from left and right”.

Some reports originally claimed that one of the killers had been apprehended, although these allegations have since been dropped.

The contradictory reports were accompanied by cynical humor in the Iranian social media. After the robot’s claims were made public, Iranian Twitter disseminated cartoon-like images of a Transformer game with a blue Nissan chassis protruding from its chest.

The official narratives were so “controversial,” writer Abbas Taheri wrote on Twitter, that Iranian media leaders would all have to give up on this confusion.

But there were serious concerns during the corpse.

“There’s an intelligence crack” – Brig. General Hossein Dehghan, a military chief adviser to Iran’s top leader, said on state television. “There are people in the system who provide information to our enemies, and the enemy plans and executes plans based on those leaks.”