TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian security has made a number of arrests in the assassination of a prominent nuclear scientist, the country’s intelligence chief said Thursday.
Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said the arrests have given Iran’s secret services “new clues” about the people involved in the deadly attacks, which it blames on Western intelligence agencies.
According to Iranian authorities, assailants on motorcycles attached magnetized bombs to the cars of two nuclear scientists as they were driving to work in Tehran Monday, killing one and wounding the other.
Iran says the attacks are part of a covert campaign by Israel and the West to sabotage its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is aimed at producing nuclear weapons — something Iran denies.
Officials say that campaign includes the abduction of Iranian scientists, the sale of faulty equipment and the planting of a destructive computer worm known as Stuxnet, which briefly brought Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to a halt last month.
Asked about the Iranian accusations earlier this week, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel did not comment on such matters. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We decry acts of terrorism, wherever they occur. And beyond that, we do not have any information on what happened.”
Moslehi accused the Israeli Mossad spy agency, Britain’s MI6 and the CIA of being involved in the attacks, and added that the assassination won’t affect Iran’s nuclear program.
“The enemy must know that it won’t get anywhere with such acts,” he said.
He announced the arrests but didn’t give specifics, saying only that “a number of people were identified and arrested in connection with the two terrorist attacks,” according to state TV’s website.
The daring attacks and the mere suggestion that they were the work of a foreign power suggest that the standoff between Iran and the West over Tehran’s uranium enrichment program has entered a new and extremely dangerous phase.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, asserted that the scientists being targeted were linked to sanctions enacted by the U.N. Security Council and the European Union.
“These experts and scientists … are targeted and killed one by one,” he told reporters outside a meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board.
He also indirectly blamed the United States and its Western allies, declaring that “proponents of the resolutions of the Security Council” punishing Iran for refusing to curb its nuclear activities are responsible for the “blind assassinations by terrorists.”
“We condemn those few Western countries who are supporting the terrorist acts in Iran,” he said.
Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Wednesday the assassination was a warning to Iran before nuclear talks starting Monday in Geneva between representatives of Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
But the hard-line daily Kayhan said Iran should put off the talks and instead take revenge against the U.S., Britain and Israel for their alleged involvement in the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist.
“It’s Iran’s right to cancel next week’s talks due to the recent terrorist crimes against our two nuclear scientists,” it said.
The paper, which is run by a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there was no reason Israeli, American and British scientists and their nuclear facilities remain safe when Iran’s nuclear scientists are killed and its nuclear plants sabotaged.
Several Iranian news websites said Wednesday the man who survived, Fereidoun Abbasi, realized he was under attack and was able to stop the car and jump out along with his wife.
Abbasi appears to be the more senior of the two. He is on a sanctions list under U.N. Security Council resolution 1747, passed in 2007, which described him as a Defense Ministry scientist with links to the Institute of Applied Physics, working closely with someone heading secret nuclear projects with possible military dimensions.
Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, said the two scientists already lived in protected housing complexes but adequate security had not been anticipated while driving them to work.
Kayhan also reported Wednesday that an Iranian policeman was killed in clashes at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport a day earlier.
The paper said police became suspicious of a group of people at Mehrabad airport, which is used for domestic flights, and were following them when one of the suspects opened fire, killing one policeman, and injuring another.
There was no indication that the deadly attack was related to Shahriari’s assassination, but Iran has increased security measures in its wake.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi contributed to this report from Vienna.