Iranian nuclear physicist killed in bombing had supported opposition leader’s presidential run

By Nasser Karimi, AP
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Slain nuclear physicist backed Iran’s opposition

TEHRAN, Iran — A nuclear physics professor who publicly backed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi in the June presidential election was killed Tuesday when a bomb-rigged motorcycle blew up outside his home.

State media identified the victim as Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a professor at Tehran University, which has been at the center of recent protests by student opposition supporters. Before the election, pro-reform Web sites published Mohammadi’s name among a list of 240 university teachers who supported Mousavi.

The government blamed the attack Tuesday on an armed Iranian opposition group under the direction of Israel and the U.S.

Hard-line government supporters called at recent street rallies for the execution of the opposition leaders.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A nuclear physics professor at Tehran University was killed Tuesday by a bomb-rigged motorcycle parked outside his home in Iran’s capital, state media reported.

Massoud Ali Mohammadi had just left his house on his way to work when the remote-controlled explosion went off, state TV said.

State media blamed the killing on the West, which is locked in a tense confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. One news Web site associated with a prominent member of the country’s clerical leadership singled out the United States and Israel, saying the assassination was probably the work of an armed Iranian opposition group under the direction of Israeli agents.

The blast shattered the windows of Mohammadi’s home in northern Tehran’s Qeytariyeh neighborhood and left the pavement outside smeared with blood and strewn with debris. The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi as confirming the killing and saying no one has been arrested.

Neither report said whether the 50-year-old Mohammadi was connected to Iran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Iran denies having any intention to produce weapons and insists its nuclear work only has peaceful aims, such as energy production.

A government news Web site, Borna, described Mohammadi as a senior nuclear scientist but gave no other details.

Mohammadi was the author of several articles on quantum and theoretical physics in scientific journals. He also was a member of some academic associations focusing on experimental science, but he did not appear to have any high-profile role in promoting Iran’s nuclear program.

He received his doctorate in 1992 from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.

Iran’s suspicions for the assassination fell on exiled opposition group the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran and Israeli agents, said the news Web site Tabnak. The Tabnak site is closely associated with Mohsen Rezaei, who serves on an advisory body to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Web site of Iran’s state television declared the bombing a “terrorist act by counter revolutionaries and elements of arrogance,” a reference to the United States. Security forces are investigating, the report said.

Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in June while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Amiri’s disappearance raised questions about whether he defected and gave the West information on Iran’s nuclear program, but Iran’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of helping to kidnap him and asked for his return.

Amiri worked at a university linked to the elite Revolutionary Guard military corps and his wife said he was researching medical uses of nuclear technology at a university.

In 2007, state TV reported that another nuclear scientist, Ardeshir Hosseinpour, died as a result of gas poisoning. A one-week delay in the reporting of his death prompted speculation about the causes, including that Israel’s Mossad spy agency was to blame.

The United States and its allies in Europe have been pushing Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, a technology that can be used to make fuel for power plants but which also offers a possible pathway to weapons development.

Israel has threatened to take military action if diplomatic efforts fail.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the Obama administration has concluded that the best way to pressure Iran to come clean on its nuclear ambitions is to impose sanctions aimed at the country’s ruling elite.

“It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. “They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.”

Iran is already under three sets of U.N. sanctions for refusing to freeze its enrichment work.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, told reporters that sanctions would not work.

“This is not a constructive attitude,” he said. “I do not think the issue can be solved this way. Instead, our nuclear rights should be respected.”

(This version CORRECTS APNewsNow; UPDATES with professor having come out publicly in support of Iran’s opposition leader; corrects spelling of professor’s first name)

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