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Nuclear scientist killed in bomb attack in Tehran

Four others are injured, two of them in a second, similar attack. The slaying is the second this year in which an Iranian physicist linked to a project known as SESAME has been killed in a bombing.

November 30, 2010|By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut and Tehran — For the second time in less than a year, an Iranian physicist connected to an international project that includes Israel and the Islamic Republic as member states died in a bomb blast in Tehran, adding to the mystery of what appear to be attacks against Iran's nuclear brain trust.

Majid Shahriari, a nuclear scientist at the capital's prestigious Shahid Beheshti University, died in the Monday morning attack, which injured his wife and driver, Iranian authorities told local news outlets. Another Shahid Beheshti nuclear scientist, Fereydoun Abbasi, and his wife were injured in a separate attack about the same time.

No one claimed responsibility and no arrests had been made, Iranian officials said. But authorities quickly blamed Israel and the West.

"Undoubtedly, the Western governments and the Zionist regime were involved," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters. "I hope the country's security officials will find out about them and introduce them to people."

A powerful and still mysterious Jan. 12 explosion killed Iranian physicist Massoud Ali Mohammadi near his home. Both Mohammadi and Shahriari were delegates to Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, or SESAME, a United Nations-backed particle physics project based in Jordan that is one of the few projects in which Iran and Israel officially cooperate.

One administrator at SESAME said the two men's connection to the organization could be coincidental. "The work of SESAME is open to everybody and has nothing to do with nuclear technology," Yasser Khalil, the official, said in a phone interview.

Mohammadi's slaying led to speculation that Iran's international adversaries were targeting scientists as a way of slowing its nuclear research program. But others said he might have been killed for supporting the political movement opposed to Ahmadinejad.

Both scientists attacked Monday were driving to work shortly before 8 a.m. when they were approached by motorcyclists who either attached bombs to or threw them at vehicles, police said.

"A Pulsar motorbike drove close to Dr. Shahriari's car and stuck a bomb on his car, which after a few seconds exploded," Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

"Experts are examining the incidents," Sajedinia said. "The type of the bombs and explosive materials and the extent of damage have not been determined yet."

The attacks prompted a stern warning by the normally cool-headed chief of Iran's atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, who described Shahriari as a former student. "Do not play with fire," he said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "There is a limit to the Iranian nation's patience, and if we run out of patience the enemy will suffer adverse consequences. Of course we still maintain our patience."

Shahriari's research included medical applications of nuclear technology, according to research papers that cite his authorship. One of his students, Amir-Hassan Mousavi, told The Times that Shahriari was about 40 and taught undergraduate- and graduate-level classes dealing with matters such as nuclear radiation, detection and laser applications.

"He was very religious and started his class with the recitation of verses from the Koran or hadith," the sayings of the prophet Muhammad's early followers, Mousavi said. "He did not express his political leaning. But in religious ceremonies he was active."

Another student described Abbasi, the injured scientist, as "very influential" in campus academic and political affairs.

The Fars news agency described the two professors as members of the pro-government Basiji militia. Iranian news media have already begun describing Shahriari as a martyr.

Shahid Beheshti University, known as National University of Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, offers degrees in nuclear physics and mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, a process that can be used to create fuel for a power reactor or fissile material for a bomb.

The U.S. and Israel have vowed to stop or discourage Iran from advancing its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad acknowledged Monday that a computer virus installed by Iran's "enemies" recently had damaged some of the country's uranium enrichment centrifuges. "They were able to cause minor problems ... but fortunately, our experts discovered it," he said.

daragahi@latimes.com

Times staff writer Daragahi reported from Beirut and special correspondent Mostaghim from Tehran.

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