Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TEHRAN | A nuclear physics professor who publicly backed Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi in the disputed June presidential election was killed Tuesday when a bomb-rigged motorcycle blew up outside his home.

The blast, apparently set off by a remote trigger, left a puzzling mix of clues about why a 50-year-old researcher with no prominent political voice, no published work with military relevance and no declared links to Iran’s nuclear program would be targeted.

State media identified the victim as Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a professor at Tehran University, which has been at the center of recent protests by student opposition supporters. Before the election, pro-reform Web sites published Mr. Ali Mohammadi’s name among a list of 240 Tehran University teachers who supported Mr. Mousavi.

Hard-line government supporters called at recent street rallies for the execution of opposition leaders. But Mr. Ali Mohammadi was not a well-known opposition figure in Iran.

The government blamed the rare assassination on an armed Iranian opposition group that it said operated under the direction of Israel and the U.S. Iran often accuses the two countries of meddling in its affairs — both when it comes to postelection unrest and its nuclear program.

“Since Ali Mohammadi was one of the scientists of physics and nuclear energy, most probably intelligence services and elements of the Mossad and CIA had a hand in his assassination,” the Web site of state television quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabad as saying. The accusation was echoed by the Foreign Ministry.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner denied the charge.

“Any charges of U.S. involvement are absurd,” he said. A U.S. intelligence official said the CIA played no role in the bombing death, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry had no comment.

A spokesman for the atomic agency, Ali Shirzadian, said Mr. Ali Mohammadi had no link with the agency responsible for Iran’s contentious nuclear program. And U.S. experts in the same field said his work had no apparent connection to military uses of nuclear technology.

Iran is under pressure from the United States and its European allies, which suspect Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies that.

Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in June while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, raising questions about whether he defected and gave the West information on the country’s nuclear program. Mr. Amiri worked at a university linked to the Revolutionary Guard and his wife said he was researching medical uses of nuclear technology at a university.

Iran’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of helping to kidnap him and demanded his return.

In 2007, state TV reported that another nuclear scientist, Ardeshir Hosseinpour, died from gas poisoning. A one-week delay in the reporting of his death prompted speculation about the causes, including that Israel’s Mossad spy agency was to blame.

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