Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian nuclear scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret atomic weapons program was assassinated near Tehran on Friday, Iranian state media reported.
He died of injuries in hospital after armed assassins fired on his car, Iranian media reported.
Fakhrizadeh has long been described by Western, Israeli and Iranian exile foes of Iran’s clerical rulers as a leader of a covert atomic bomb program halted in 2003. Iran has long denied seeking to weaponize nuclear energy.
Here is everything you need to know about him:
‘Father of Iran’s nuclear bomb’
Fakhrizadeh, reportedly a senior officer in the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is thought to have headed what the UN nuclear watchdog and US intelligence services believe was a coordinated nuclear weapons program in Iran, shelved in 2003.
He had the rare distinction of being the only Iranian scientist named in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear program and whether it was aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.
Fakhrizadeh was named in a 2007 UN resolution on Iran as a person involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities. An IAEA report the following year also referred to him briefly.
Iranian media rarely mention him. In 2007, the semi-official Mehr News Agency described him as a scientist working for the Defense Ministry and a former head of the Physics Research Centre, a body also mentioned in the IAEA’s report.
Some Iranian websites said he was a university professor.
But Western analysts acknowledged that little is publicly known about Fakhrizadeh, described by Albright’s think tank as a nuclear engineer who has overseen a number of projects related to weaponization research and development.
The IAEA had said in 2002-2003, Fakhrizadeh was the executive officer of the so-called AMAD Plan, which according to its information conducted studies related to uranium, high explosives and the revamping of a missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
“If Iran ever chose to weaponise (enrichment), Fakhrizadeh would be known as the father of the Iranian bomb,” a Western diplomat who is critical of Iran’s nuclear program had told Reuters.
Multiple passports, support of Khamenei
A high-ranking Iranian source, told Reuters Fakhrizadeh was “an asset and an expert” dedicated to Iran’s technological progress and enjoying the full support of its most powerful man, clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The source added that Fakhrizadeh had three passports and travelled a lot, including in Asia, to obtain “the latest information” from abroad, but would not elaborate. Western security sources say Iran has been adept in obtaining nuclear materials and know-how from the international black market.
An exiled Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), had issued a report in 2014 with what it said was a photograph of Fakhrizadeh, with dark hair and the customary beard stubble sported by backers of Iran’s Islamic leadership. It was not possible to independently verify it. A NCRI spokesman said it was “not very recent” but gave no detail.
The NCRI said Fakhrizadeh was born in 1958 in the holy Shia Muslim city of Qom, is a deputy defense minister and a Revolutionary Guards brigadier-general, holds a nuclear engineering doctorate and teaches at Iran’s University of Imam Hussein. It said he was the head of a secretive body which it called “the command center” behind atomic bomb-related activity.