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Iran physicist killed in bombing

Had backed opposition head; US, Israel blamed

By Nasser Karimi and Brian Murphy
Associated Press / January 13, 2010

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TEHRAN - A senior physics professor who publicly backed Iran’s opposition leader was killed yesterday when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded as he left for work. The government blamed the United States and Israel for the attack.

The blast apparently was set off by a remote trigger, but it was unclear why the professor was targeted. The victim was 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.

Hard-line backers of the Islamic system have urged stronger measures to try to crush and intimidate antigovernment forces. But the Tehran University professor, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, was far from a front-row political player.

He joined a list of 240 faculty members in a declaration supporting opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi before June’s disputed presidential election, but did not take any known high-profile role in the protests after the vote.

The attack was an oddity in Tehran, where such targeted bombings are rare.

“There’s a lot of conflicting and confusing aspects to this,’’ said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iranian affairs expert at Syracuse University. “About the only thing we can probably say is that this may bring lots more pressure on the opposition.’’

Iran’s leadership immediately blamed an armed Iranian opposition group that it said operated under the direction of Israel and the United States. The website of Iran’s presidential office said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered an investigation into foreign involvement in the bombing.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “Any charges of US involvement are absurd.’’ A US intelligence official said the CIA played no role in the bombing death, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry had no comment.

It is the third mysterious episode involving an Iranian scientist in recent years.

Researcher Shahram Amiri disappeared in June while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, raising questions about whether he defected and gave the West information on Iran’s nuclear program. 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 United States 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 cause, including the notion that Israel’s Mossad spy agency was to blame.

Ali Mohammadi, however, had no known ties to Iran’s nuclear program - which the West alleges could include clandestine weapons. Iran says it seeks to build only energy-producing reactors.

Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for the atomic agency, said Ali Mohammadi “was not involved in the country’s nuclear program.’’

His published work - focusing on theoretical physics and the study of subatomic particles - has virtually no military applications, said Michio Kaku, a prominent high-energy physics professor at City College of New York.

“Nuclear physicists interested in bomb-making would have no interest in these papers,’’ Kaku said.