Iran says ex-official had role in death of nuclear scientist

Iran state media claims British-Iranian Alireza Akbari, sentenced to death on Wednesday, had a role in the 2020 assassination of a top military scientist.

Alireza Akbari, Iran's former deputy defence minister, speaks during an interview with Khabaronline in Tehran
Alireza Akbari, Iran's former deputy defence minister, was sentenced to death by Iran on Wednesday for spying [File: Khabaronline/WANA/Reuters]

Iran’s official IRNA news agency has published a video purporting to show that British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari played a role in the 2020 assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist.

The claim on Thursday comes a day after Iran sentenced the former deputy defence minister to death on charges of spying for Britain. London described the death sentence as politically motivated and called for his immediate release.

Iran’s intelligence ministry said Akbari was “one of the most important agents of the British intelligence service in Iran who had access to some very sensitive centres in the country” and had “fully, knowingly provided information to the enemy’s spy service”.

He was a close ally of Ali Shamkhani, who is the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and served as defence minister from 1997 to 2005 when Akbari was his deputy.

Iran’s judicial news agency Mizan Online said he was given the death penalty for “corruption on Earth and for harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence”.

IRNA’s video alleged Akbari was implicated in the murder of prominent Iranian military scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed in a 2020 attack outside Tehran using a satellite-controlled machinegun.

Fakhrizadeh was widely seen by Western intelligence as the mastermind of clandestine Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denied.

The Iranian authorities put out conflicting accounts of how the scientist was killed as he travelled in a car through the town of Absard.

Officials said Israel carried out the attack using a satellite-guided machinegun mounted on the back of a pick-up truck that later exploded.

In February 2021, the intelligence ministry said a member of Iran’s armed forces was involved in the assassination.

Israel did not officially respond to the accusation, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in 2018 that Fakhrizadeh headed a secret nuclear weapons programme.

Iranian officials said Fakhrizadeh was a deputy defence minister at the time of the assassination and worked on “nuclear and missile defence”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies