THE widow of the Iranian nuke scientist assassinated yesterday said "he wanted to get martyred" while claiming his death will inspire "thousands".
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed following a gun and bomb attack in Damavand, near capital Tehran, which Iran has slammed as an "act of state terror" blaming Israel.
The scientist's unnamed wife appeared on state TV in a black chador, saying his death would spark a thousand others to take up his work.
She said: “He wanted to get martyred and his wish came true.”
Fakhrizadeh's body lay in an open coffin draped in a flag at a mosque in central Tehran today as the country publicly mourns the loss of the scientist dubbed "the father of the Iranian bomb."
Hard-line Iranian media have broadcast images showing him standing alongside a machine-gun-cradling likeness of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in January.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country's first priority was the definitive punishment of the attackers and those who ordered it. He did not elaborate.
Speaking earlier, President Hassan Rouhani blamed arch-enemy Israel for the killing and of acting as a "mercenary" for the US.
He said: “We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time.
“The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos.”
Iran said Fakhrizadeh's death would not stop its nuclear program which now enriches a growing uranium stockpile following the collapse of the country's nuclear deal after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.
Meanwhile, it emerged today US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz was deployed to the Gulf this week just days before the assassination.
Yet, US Navy officials insist the deployment of the 101,000-ton warship was not related to any "specific threats".
Our priority is definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it
The scientist's car was reportedly struck by an explosion set by a "suicide" assassin before being sprayed with bullets in a brutal killing that is expected to spark harsh retaliation.
According to Iran state media, several other people have also died in the explosion.
Chilling pictures from the scene show the blood-soaked pavement and a black car punctured with bullets.
A statement by Iran's armed forces read: "Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving him, and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle."
It comes amid ongoing tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the US — along with its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia — over the Islamic Republic's quest for nuclear weapons.
Iran has vowed to "strike like thunder" on whoever carried out the attack.
Hossein Dehghan a top Iranian military adviser tweeted: "We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action".
And the BBC reports Major General Hossein Salami said: "Assassination of nuclear scientists is the most obvious violation of the global hegemony to prevent our access to modern sciences."
Pointing the finger at Israel, Iran's Foreign Minister tweeted: "Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today.
"This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators
"Iran calls on international community — and especially EU — to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror."
US President Trump appeared to acknowledge the killing as he retweeted a New York Times article detailing Fakhrizadeh's death.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military told The Guardian: “We don’t comment on reports in the foreign media.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the assassination yet.
However, the deadly ambush comes just days after it was reported Israel's Defence Forces had been told to brace for a US military strike against Iran before Trump leaves office.
And the New York Times reported Mr Trump had discussed the possibility of a final Iran strike before he left the White House with senior security officials.
But, he was then reportedly "talked out" of launching a strike on the Islamic republic after being warned it could spark all-out war.
'VERY SENSITIVE PERIOD'
As Joe Biden prepares to take office in January, Israeli officials were warned of a "very sensitive period" with Trump unwilling, until this week, to concede defeat.
It comes amid fears that a rash move in the Middle East by Mr Trump in the final weeks of his presidency could create a geopolitical headache for the President-elect.
Mr Biden has been open about his desire to re-engage diplomatically with Iran and vowed to revive the 2015 Nuclear Deal in a sharp reversal of the Trump administration's 'maximum pressure' policy.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is reported to have been on high alert in recent weeks in the event of a US military strike.
Axios reports that the IDF have been instructed to prepare for a possible strike against Iran by the Israeli government, which did not make the order based on intelligence that Trump will issue the strike.
The officials say Israel's government has warned the IDF to prepare for possible retaliation against the country by Iran directly, or by proxies in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon.
Fakhrizadeh was often compared with Robert Oppenheimer – the American physicist who oversaw the effort to build the atomic bomb in the 1940s – and has also been dubbed the "nuclear Qasem Soleimani."
Soleimani, Iran's military commander, was considered to be one of the most powerful and prolific figures in Middle Eastern war games before he was assassinated in a US air strike earlier this year.
He was named in UN sanctions resolutions over fears he was secretly crafting nuclear weapons.
In 2007, leaked documents revealed Fakhrizadeh was the chairman of the Field for the Expansion of Deployment of Advanced Technology (FEDAT) – the name for the organisation behind Iran's nuclear development program, say US officials.
He was also named as the organisation's boss by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference back in 2018.
Iran's relationship with the rest of the world has been strained over fears the military power is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
For some time, Mr Fakhrizadeh had disappeared from the Iranian military circles before reappearing in 2012.
Back in January, fears were heightened of a military confrontation between the US and Iran following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
And this week, a historic meeting between Saudi Arabia and Israel's leaders – both common enemies of Iran – was held.
The meeting of the two significant powers, who previously had shunned all formal diplomatic relations, sent a strong message to Iran of the strength of their opposition.
“It’s Iran, Iran, Iran,” Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel’s Army Radio when asked about the visit. “It is very, very important to create the axis which isolates Iran.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeili Prime Minister Netanyahu were cheered on by Trump.
The US and Iran have seen relations plunge to new lows under the Trump administration following a string of clashes.
Earlier this week, the President sent B-52 nuclear capable bombers to the Middle East in an apparent warning to Iran.
The aircraft flew to the Middle East nonstop from their base in North Dakota and are expected to be stationed at a US base in Qatar.
F-15 and F-15 fighter jets along with KC-10 and KC-135 aerial tankers also accompanied the bombers.
Lieutenant General Greg Guillot, commander of the US military’s 9th Air Force, said: "The ability to quickly move forces into, out of and around the theater to seize, retain and exploit the initiative is key to deterring potential aggression."
He added: "These missions help bomber aircrews gain familiarity with the region’s airspace and command and control functions and allow them to integrate with the theater’s US and partner air assets, increasing the combined force’s overall readiness."
The US tends to station of the aircraft amid periods of heightened tension in the region, and they have previously been seen to be directly pointed at Iran.
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