The Iranian Defense Minister on Monday vowed to find and punish those responsible for the murder of the leading Iranian nuclear scientist, while another senior official presented a report on the attack that was fundamentally different from the first reports in the Iranian state news media.
“We are chasing the criminals to the end,” said Defense Minister Brig. General Amir Hatami said at a mourning ceremony for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was shot and killed with his bodyguards outside Tehran last Friday.
The Iranian state news agencies initially reported that armed men had killed Mr. Fakhrizadeh in a roadside ambush after a truck explosion – and even interviewed an alleged witness. At the funeral on Monday, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, said that Israel carried out the attack using sophisticated “electronic devices”.
He did not elaborate on it, but the Fars News Agency, a subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, said the attack was carried out with a remote-controlled machine gun.
The new version of events, which could not be immediately confirmed, appeared to represent a coordinated damage control effort by the nation’s security apparatus following a public and official backlash following the embarrassingly public assassination of Fakhrizadeh, Western intelligence officials said, carried out by Israel.
At the funeral at the Defense Ministry headquarters, photos and footage showed a procession with Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, covered in flowers and draped with the Iranian flag.
It was the latest expression of anger over the death of Fakhrizadeh, who for two decades was the brains behind what American and Israeli intelligence agencies termed Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program, despite Iran claiming its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
But on Monday General Hatami said that the death of the scientist he called a martyr would make him a role model for Iranian youth and only strengthen the nation’s determination to move forward with his work.
Although he did not specify how, General Hatami said the country would take to heart the orders of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to punish the perpetrators and commanders behind the murder. Tehran is gathering an elite group to catch the perpetrators and prosecute them, said Iranian justice chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi on Monday. Members are the Attorney General and selected members of the armed forces and intelligence services.
“Once again the evil hands of global arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries have been stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday, repeating sentences that Iranian officials often use with reference to Israel. He added that the country would respond “in due course”.
Following this threat, Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert on Saturday, Israeli N12 News reported. The country’s foreign ministry said it would not comment on embassy security issues.
The calls for retaliation added to concerns that the situation could escalate. Over the weekend, Germany urged all sides not to retaliate in the Trump administration’s final weeks to keep hopes of renewed negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program once Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes over the presidency.
As part of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – a major foreign policy milestone for the Obama administration – Tehran accepted strict restrictions on its ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wanted. President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed severe sanctions on Iran.
Mr Biden is expected to attempt to restore the deal and potentially restrict Iran’s production and export of advanced weapons, but the killing threatens to complicate those efforts. The reaction of Iran in the next few weeks should determine whether it will succeed, say analysts.
Farnaz Fassihi contributed to the coverage from New York.