Envoy to UN: Iran reserves right to defend itself
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Saturday urged definitive punishment of those behind the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, adding that his work must be carried forward.
Ayatollah Khamenei ordered authorities to "follow up on this crime and certainly punishing the perpetrators and those ordered it, and ... continue the scientific and technical efforts of this martyr in all of the fields he was working in."
The Leader described Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as a "prestigious nuclear and defense scientist" and said he was "martyred by the hands of criminal and cruel mercenaries."
"This unparalleled scientist gave his dear and valuable life to God because of his great and lasting scientific efforts, and the high prize of martyrdom is his divine reward," he added.
Fakhrizadeh was assassinated after being seriously wounded when assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards outside the capital Tehran on Friday, according to Iran's Defense Ministry.
Friday’s attack happened in Absard, a town just east of the capital Tehran. National television said an old truck with explosives hidden under a load of wood blew up near a sedan carrying Fakhrizadeh.
As Fakhrizadeh’s car stopped, at least five gunmen emerged and raked the car with rapid fire, Tasnim News Agency said.
Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes in the windshield and blood pooled on the road.
The ministry said that the scientist, who headed its Research and Innovation Organization, succumbed to injuries after medics failed to revive him.
Criminal act won’t go unanswered
President Hassan Rouhani held Israel responsible for the deadly assault, noting that Tel Aviv seeks to create "chaos" by carrying out the assassination, but Tehran will not fall into a "trap."
"The nation of Iran is smarter than to fall in the trap of the conspiracy set by the Zionists. They are thinking of creating chaos, but they should know that we have read their hands and they will not succeed," Rouhani said in televised remarks.
He vowed that Iran will not "leave this criminal act unanswered" and will retaliate "in due time".
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday said that there were "serious indications of an Israeli role" in the assassination.
The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, without giving further details.
Fakhrizadeh’s name was mentioned multiple times in a presentation in 2018 by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which he repeated claims about the Iranian nuclear program.
Netanyahu described the scientist as the director of Iran’s nuclear program and said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”
Israel made several attempts over the past years to throw a wrench in Tehran’s peaceful nuclear work.
The regime has been behind the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists. It has also conduced cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear sites.
"This barbaric assassination shows that our enemies are in stressful weeks, during which they feel... their pressure declining, the global situation changing," Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump, which has forged closer than ever ties with Israel.
The assassination of Fakhrizadeh comes less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is to take office.
Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran.
Rouhani said that Iran's foes want to "make the maximum use ... of these few weeks" in order to "create an uncertain situation in the region".
Iran warns US, Israel
Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Friday that the Islamic Republic reserves the right to defend itself.
“The cowardly assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh – with serious indications of Israeli responsibility in it – is another desperate attempt to wreak havoc on our region,” Takht-Ravanchi said.
“Warning against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests,” he added.
Iran’s most senior military official warned on Friday that the country will take "severe revenge."
Brigadier General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces, said in a statement that “we assure you that we will not rest until we track down and take revenge on those responsible for the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh.”
Also on Friday, Iran’s Judiciary Chief Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi said a “big crime” was carried out by “traitorous elements linked to foreigners and international Zionism with the sinister goal of hindering the country’s scientific progress.”
Raeisi called on Iran’s security and intelligence organizations in addition to relevant judicial bodies to do their utmost to arrest and serve justice to the criminals and mercenaries involved in the crime as soon as possible.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said the assassination “once again exposed the filthy face of the Zionist regime”, adding that a “heavy and irreversible cost” awaits the assassins.
Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami hailed Fakhrizadeh's service for Iran’s defense industry as “great and fruitful”, saying the slain scientist was one of the pioneers of the country’s scientific movement against the novel coronavirus.
“The organization under the management of Martyr Fakhrizadeh was among the first centers to produce the COVID-19 test kits,” Hatami said.
AFP, AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.