A leading Iranian nuclear scientist has died and another has been injured by motorbike-riding bombers who planted explosives on their cars as they drove to work.
State TV swiftly blamed Israel for the attacks, which followed the deaths of at least two other Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years in what Iran has said is part of a covert attempt by the West to damage its controversial nuclear programme.
Head of the country’s nuclear operation Ali Akbar Salehi issued a stern warning as he rushed to hospital to see the surviving scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi. He said: “Don’t play with fire. The patience of the Iranian nation has limits. If it runs out of patience, bad consequences will await enemies.”
Mr Salehi, one of Iran’s vice presidents, was apparently referring to Israel and the US, which Iran alleges are trying to damage its nuclear programme.
Tehran’s uranium enrichment programme is at the centre of a bitter row between Iran on one side and the US and its allies on the other. Uranium enrichment is a process that can be used to produce both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
Some countries suspect Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons, an allegation the government denies. Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment has brought on multiple rounds of UN sanctions against the country.
Several active armed groups oppose Iran’s ruling clerics, but it is unclear whether they could have carried out the apparently co-ordinated bombings in the capital. Most anti-government violence in recent years has been isolated to Iran’s provinces such the border with Pakistan where Sunni rebels are active and the western mountains near Iraq where Kurdish separatists operate.
The attackers, who escaped, drove by their targets on motorcycles and attached the bombs as the cars were moving. They exploded shortly afterwards.
The attacks bore close similarities to another in January which killed Tehran University professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a senior physics professor, who died when a booby-trapped motorcycle exploded near his car as he was about to leave for work. In 2007, state TV reported that nuclear scientist Ardeshir Hosseinpour died from gas poisoning. A one-week delay in the reporting of his death prompted speculation about the cause, including that Israel’s Mossad spy agency was to blame.
Iran has continued to portray its nuclear programme as being under constant pressure from the West and its allies. These include alleged abductions of nuclear officials and, more recently, a computer worm known as Stuxnet that experts say was calibrated to destroy uranium-enrichment centrifuges by sending them spinning out of control.