Iranian shot dead was nuclear specialist

George Jahn – Associated Press July 29, 2011

A man shot dead on a Tehran street by motorcycle-riding gunmen last weekend was a scientist involved in suspected Iranian attempts to make nuclear weapons and not a student as officially claimed, a foreign government official and a former UN nuclear inspector have told the Associated Press.

The man was shot Saturday by a pair of gunmen firing from motorcycles in an attack similar to recent assassinations of two nuclear scientists that Iran blames on the United States and Israel. State-run media initially identified him as Darioush Rezaei, a physics professor and expert in neutron transport, but those sources backtracked within hours, with officials subsequently naming him as Darioush Rezaeinejad, an electronics student.

An official from a member nation of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency verified that the victim was named Darioush Rezaeinejad but said he participated in developing high-voltage switches, a key component in setting off the explosions needed to trigger a nuclear warhead. An abstract seen by the AP and bearing the name Darioush Rezaeinejad as a coauthor appears to back that claim.

Two other men, both of them nuclear scientists, were killed last year by assassins on motorcycles. While the possibility remained that there may be two Darioush Rezaeinejads, a senior Western diplomat in Vienna said the three assassinations, as well as the “back and forth by the Iranians’’ on the latest victim’s identity, had sharpened suspicions in his capital of a possible coverup. The diplomat asked for anonymity because he was relaying confidential information.

Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons and insists its activities are geared only to generate fuel for a future reactor network and other peaceful purposes. But it refuses to cease activities that could be used to make such weapons, despite UN sanctions, and is stonewalling International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to probe intelligence-based allegations that it worked on components of such arms.

Because of UN embargoes prohibiting the sale to Iran of sensitive nuclear technologies, it has tried to secure components clandestinely, including high-voltage firing switches for possible weapons applications.

The official described Rezaeinejad as a physicist who had worked in the past for the Iranian defense ministry on projects linked to nuclear weapons development, including the switches.

Rezaeinejad succeeded on his project, according to an abstract of an article he coauthored three years ago and presented to the 16th Conference of Iranian Power Engineering. News of the claimed success has apparently not been previously reported. If accurate, it would move Iran a step closer to the technology needed to set off a nuclear explosion.

The abstract shared with the AP says the article, titled “Designing, Manufacturing and Testing a Closing Switch’’ provides “details about the designing, simulating, building and testing’’ of such hardware.

Such switches also have uses in medical and nonmilitary scientific applications. But a former UN nuclear inspector – who also asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information – said the title of the document would make “an explosive application’’ likely.