An Iranian scientist became the latest victim of a covert effort to sabotage the country's nuclear ambitions yesterday when he was killed in a bomb blast in Tehran.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemist who worked in the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, died when an assassin riding a motorcycle attached an explosive device to his Peugeot 405.
Mr Roshan (32) was the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed since 2007. Two attacks using an identical method in 2010 claimed the lives of one nuclear physicist and wounded another, Fereydoun Abbasi, who has since become head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.
As in the past, Iran was quick to blame Israel. "The responsibility of this explosion falls on the Zionist regime," said Safar Ali Bratloo, the deputy governor of Tehran province.
The sophistication of the attack -- the bomb killed only its target and nobody else in the same vehicle -- bore the hallmarks of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny this claim, in keeping with their usual policy.
However, Gene Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli military spokesman, said on his Facebook page: "I don't know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear."
The US administration took the unusual step of explicitly denying any involvement in the killing. "The US had absolutely nothing to do with this," said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. "We strongly condemn all acts of violence."
Iranian officials confirmed that Mr Roshan was a deputy director at Natanz, where uranium is being enriched in defiance of five UN resolutions. He was believed to be an expert in gas separation. Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation blamed America as well as Israel for his death and promised to continue developing nuclear technology.
Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, noted that Egypt's attempt to acquire nuclear weapons capability in the 1970s was derailed by the assassination of key figures.
The enforced loss of expertise, widely attributed to Israel, was "crucial in preventing Egypt from getting very far", he said. "Iran's programme is further advanced, so I don't know if a decapitation strategy would work," he added.
While an explosion at a military base last November killed General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the head of Iran's ballistic missile programme, the most effective covert action was probably the infection of the Natanz plant with the Stuxnet computer virus. This caused hundreds of uranium-enriching centrifuges to spin out of control and blow up in 2010. (© Daily Telegraph, London)