Daryush Rezaee-Nejad, 35, who died Saturday, July 23, when two motorcyclists shot him in the head and throat in front of his home in Tehran, was a rising star of the new generation of Iranian nuclear scientists. debkafile's Iranian sources disclose he was attached to one of the most secret teams of Iran's nuclear program, employed by the defense ministry to construct detonators for the nuclear bombs and warhead already in advanced stages of development.
This was another in the series in the past year of mysterious attacks of top-flight scientists attached to the Iranian nuclear program.
Our sources disclose that while he may have fit the Iranian media's description of "a university student studying for a master's degree in electricity at the Khajeh-Nasser University, one of the defense ministry's Institutes of Hydraulic Engineering and Structural Engineering," that description applied only to one part of his work.
He was also to be found daily at the top secret Parchine nuclear and military laboratories in northeast Tehran, where most of the work on nuclear bomb components and operational warheads is conducted.
His employment in this dual capacity helped Tehran keeping these activities under deep cover.
It also accounts for the Iranian media's conflicting accounts of Razaee-Nejad's role.
Initially, he was described as "a nuclear scientist working for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran." That was Saturday shortly after his death. Sunday, they changed the story and called him "an electronics master's student." However, the Iranian Fars news agency alone suggested. "…the media had made a mistake in reporting Rezaee-Nejad's specialty" and went on to insist that he had links with the defense ministry.
Further belying the claim that he was only a student, Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani Sunday delivered a furious diatribe against "the American-Zionist terrorist act "against one of the country's scientists as yet another sign of the degree of American animosity." He said: "America should think carefully about the consequences of such actions," and urged Iranian security sources "to deliver a strong response to these evil moves."
debkafile's intelligence sources report that Tehran appears to have got in a muddle over the dead scientist's job description after realizing that disclosing his connection with the nuclear program betrayed how deeply the scientific teams employed in uranium enrichment – and even the scientific manpower directly engaged in building a nuclear bomb – had been penetrated.
Iranian media experts tried hard to undo the damage by retooling that description for an additional reason: They needed to reassure the scientists employed on nuclear work and their families that they were not in danger lest they take fright and run for their lives.
Furthermore, neither the experts nor the public has forgotten that only nine months ago, on November 27, 2010, two leading lights of Iran's nuclear program were targeted for assassination by the same method in the middle of Tehran: Prof. Fereydoon Abbassi, whom debkafile identified at the time as director of the uranium enrichment centrifuge facility at Natanz, and Dr. Majid Shariari, whom our sources revealed as in charge of the cyber war against the Stuxnet virus attacking the same facility.
Dr. Shariari died on the spot. Prof. Abbasi survived the attack and was appointed Vice President for nuclear affairs and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization.
Since Saturday, security has been tightened for Iranian nuclear experts and their families, using special units established for the purpose, according to debkafile's sources. But this last assassination indicates that the security belt designed to protect them may too have been penetrated.