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Who is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian scientist killed in Tehran?

Fakhrizadeh is the second top official Iran has lost to assassination this year
Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in the capital Tehran on Friday 27 November (Social media)

Top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was gunned down outside Tehran on Friday, a move declared an "act of state terror" by Iran's foreign minister.

Though it is unclear who is behind the assassination, it is likely to precipitate tensions comparable to the 3 January US killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Fakhrizadeh is renowned as the architect of Iran’s military nuclear programme.

He became the face of Iran's nuclear ambitions when named in the International Atomic Energy Agency's 2015 "final assessment" of open questions about Iran's nuclear programme and whether it was aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

'Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh'

- Benjamin Netanyahu

The IAEA's report said that he oversaw activities "in support of a possible military dimension to [Iran's] nuclear programme" within the so-called AMAD Plan.

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Iran denies ever having sought to develop a nuclear weapon.

Believed to be a senior officer in the elite Revolutionary Guard, Fakhrizadeh was the only Iranian the report identified.

The IAEA has long wanted to meet Fakhrizadeh as part of a protracted investigation into whether Iran carried out illicit nuclear weapons research.

Showing no sign it would heed the request, Iran acknowledged Fakhrizadeh’s existence several years ago but said he was an army officer not involved in the nuclear programme, according to a diplomatic source who spoke to Reuters. 

Fakhrizadeh was also named in a 2007 UN resolution on Iran as a person involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.

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An exiled Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in May 2011 issued a report with what it said was a photograph of Fakhrizadeh, with dark hair and stubble. It was not possible to independently verify the picture.

The NCRI said in the report that Fakhrizadeh was born in 1958 in the holy city of Qom, was a deputy defence minister and a Revolutionary Guard brigadier-general.

According to the NCRI, the scientist held a nuclear engineering doctorate and taught at Iran’s University of Imam Hussein.

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination comes at a time of rising tensions, with Tehran fearing that outgoing US President Donald Trump could lash out before his term ends on 20 January.

Fakhrizadeh was mentioned by name by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he made a 2018 speech detailing an alleged archive of nuclear plans reportedly stolen from Iran.

"Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh," Netanyahu said.

In the same speech, the Israeli premier said the scientist had continued to work on "special projects" at the Iranian defence ministry after his military nuclear outfit was closed.

Fakhrizadeh was reportedly wanted by Mossad, and has previously escaped an assassination attempt.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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