The assassination of Iran’s top nuclear physicist was carried out using a machine gun controlled by artificial intelligence that avoided the scientist’s wife sitting less than 10 inches away, a senior commander has reportedly said.
Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, said during a ceremony that the weapon that allegedly killed Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was placed on a pick-up truck and “controlled by a satellite”, according to the Tasnim news agency.
Iran blamed Israel for the slaying of Fakhrizadeh, a secretive military scientist described as the father of Iran’s dormant nuclear weapons programme, but Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the killing.
In the past, Israel has acknowledged pursuing covert, intelligence-gathering operations against the nuclear programme of its arch-enemy.
Tehran has long denied an ambition to develop nuclear weapons.
The Islamic Republic has given contradictory details of Fakhrizadeh's death in a daytime ambush on his car on a highway near Tehran last month.
“No terrorists were present on the ground ... Martyr Fakhrizadeh was driving when a weapon, using an advanced camera, zoomed in on him,” Tasnim, a semi-official agency, quoted Mr Fadavi as saying.
“The machine gun was placed on a pick-up truck and was controlled by a satellite.”
Iranian authorities said they had found “clues about the assassins”, though they have yet to announce any arrests. Shortly after Fakhrizadeh was killed, witnesses told state television that a truck had exploded before a group of gunmen opened fire on his car.
An Israeli official suggested the Tasnim report of the tactics used was a face-saving gambit by Iran.
Last week, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, said the killing was carried out with “electronic devices” with no people on the ground.
Experts and officials told Reuters Fakhrizadeh’s killing exposed security gaps that suggest its security forces may have been infiltrated and that the Islamic Republic was vulnerable to further attacks.
“Some 13 shots were fired at martyr Fakhrizadeh with a machine gun controlled by satellite ... During the operation artificial intelligence and face recognition were used,” Mr Fadavi said.
“His wife, sitting 25 centimetres away from him in the same car, was not injured.”
Yoav Galant, an Israeli security cabinet minister, said he was not aware of whether the remote-operated targeting technologies described in the Iranian accounts existed.
“What I see is a great deal of embarrassment on the Iranian side,” Mr Galant, a former naval commando and deputy chief of Israel’s military, told Army Radio. “It would appear that those who were responsible for his (Fakhrizadeh’s) security are now coming up with reasons for not having fulfilled that mission.”
Fakhrizadeh, identified by Israel as a prime player in what it says is a continuing Iranian quest for a nuclear weapon, was the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist killed in targeted attacks since 2010 inside Iran, and his killing is the second slaying of a high-ranking Iranian official this year.
The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in January. Tehran retaliated by firing missiles at US military targets in Iraq.
Additional reporting by Reuters