Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran's first priority after the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is the "definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it".
Iran's supreme leader has called for the “definitive punishment” of those behind the killing of a scientist linked to Tehran's disbanded military nuclear program, a slaying the Islamic Republic has blamed on Israel.
Israel, long suspected of killing scientists a decade ago amid tensions over Tehran's nuclear program, has yet to comment on the killing on Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. However, the attack bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned, military-style ambush.
The slaying threatens to renew tensions between the US and Iran in the waning days of President Donald Trump's term, just as President-elect Joe Biden has suggested his administration could return to Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers from which Trump earlier withdrew.
The Pentagon announced early on Saturday that it sent the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier back into the Mideast.
In a statement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist.”
Khamenei said Iran's first priority after the killing was the “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it.” He did not elaborate.
Nuclear program to continue – Rouhani
Speaking to a meeting of his government's coronavirus task force earlier on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel for the killing.
Rouhani said that Fakhrizadeh's death would not stop its nuclear program, something Khamenei said as well. Iran's civilian nuclear program has continued its experiments and now enriches uranium up to 4.5 percent, far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
But analysts have compared Fakhrizadeh to being on a par with Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the US' Manhattan Project in World War II that created the atom bomb.
“We will respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time," Rouhani said.
He added: "The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos.”