As Iran mourns nuclear scientist, officials vow to find killers

The Iranian defense minister vowed on Monday to find and punish those responsible for the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, while another senior official offered a radically different account of the attack from initial reports in Iranian state media.

“We will prosecute criminals to the very end,” Secretary of Defense Brig said. General Amir Hatami, ”he said at a ceremony mourning Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was shot and killed last Friday near Tehran while traveling with his bodyguards.

Iranian state media originally reported that gunmen killed Mr. Fakhrizadeh in a roadside ambush after a truck exploded – and even questioned a suspected witness. But Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, said at Monday’s funeral that Israel had carried out the attack with sophisticated “electronic means”.

He did not elaborate, but the Fars news agency, a subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, said the assassination was carried out with a remotely operated machine gun.

The new version of events, which could not be confirmed immediately, appears to have been a concerted effort by the nation’s security apparatus to control the damage following public and official repercussions following the embarrassing public assassination of Fakhrizadeh, which Western intelligence said Israel had carried out.

At the funeral at the Ministry of Defense headquarters, photographs and recordings showed a procession in which Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s coffin was covered with flowers and covered with the Iranian flag.

It was the latest expression of anger at the death of Fakhrizadeh, who had been behind his brain for two decades as what U.S. and Israeli intelligence classified as Iran’s hidden nuclear weapons program, although Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

On Monday, however, General Hatami said the death of the scientist he called a martyr makes him a model for Iranian youth and only confirms the nation’s determination to move forward with his work.

Although he did not specify how, General Hatami said he would take to the heart of the country the instructions of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top leader, to punish the perpetrators and commanders of the murder. Tehran is assembling an elite group to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators, Iranian Chief Justice Justice Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday. Members include the Attorney General and selected members of the armed forces and intelligence services.

“Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance and Zionist mercenaries have been patched with the blood of an Iranian boy,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, echoing terms often used by Iranian officials to refer to Israel. He added that the country is responding “at the right time”.

Following this threat, Israel placed its embassies around the world on high alert on Saturday, Israel’s N12 News reported. The country’s foreign ministry said it would not comment on the embassy’s security concerns.

The call for retaliation has heightened concerns that the situation could escalate. Over the weekend, Germany called on all parties to refrain from retaliatory actions in the final weeks of the Trump administration to preserve hopes for new talks on Iran’s nuclear program after Joseph R. Biden Jr. assumes the presidency.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, a foreign policy milestone for the Obama administration, Tehran has adopted severe restrictions on its ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wants. In 2018, President Trump withdrew the United States from the settlement and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran.

Mr Biden is expected to try to restore the agreement, perhaps imposing restrictions on Iran’s production and export of sophisticated weapons, but the killing threatens to complicate that effort. Analysts say Iran’s reaction over the next few weeks is likely to determine if it succeeds.

Farnaz Fassihi contributed to reports in New York.