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Iran’s supreme leader promised on Saturday to retaliate for the killing of the Islamic Republic’s top nuclear scientist, raising the threat of a new confrontation with the West and Israel in the remaining weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Western and Israeli governments believe was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Friday’s killing, which Iran’s president was swift to blame on Israel, could complicate any efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama’s administration.
Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed between Tehran and major powers.
Khamenei, who is Iran’s top authority and who says the country has never sought nuclear arms, said on Twitter that Iranian officials must take up the task of “pursuing this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who commanded it”.
Fakhrizadeh, who had little public profile in Iran but who Israel named as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, was killed on Friday when he was ambushed near Tehran and his car sprayed with bullets. He was rushed to hospital where he died.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a televised meeting on Saturday Iran would respond “at the proper time”.
“Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said, using terms officials employ to refer to Israel.
Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he did not know who carried out the killing. “I have no clue who did it. It’s not that my lips are sealed because I’m being responsible, I simply really have no clue,” he told N12’s Meet the Press.
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