- Iran has a right to retaliate for scientists' killings, a leading newspaper argues
- Iran's U.N. ambassador blames Israel for the attacks
- Three scientists have been killed in the last 2 years in similar bombings
- The United States denies any role; Israeli official says he has "no idea" who's behind them
A newspaper aligned with Iran's top cleric Thursday called for the Islamic republic to respond in kind to the killings of its nuclear scientists, suggesting Israeli officials could be targeted.
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations has accused Israel and unspecified "foreign quarters" for a series of attacks after Wednesday's bombing that killed scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. And in the Tehran daily Kayhan, considered the organ of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's supporters, editor Hussein Shariatmadari questioned why Iran should not "exercise its legal right to retaliate in kind."
"It would be easy for Iran's intelligence services, who have become quite experienced through 32 years of full-fledged war with the enemies' intelligence and security services, to assassinate Israeli officials and officers," Shariatmadari wrote. He added that Iran has volunteers throughout the world willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause "if they are just given a signal."
Roshan was the third Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed by a bomb placed underneath his car in the past two years, while a fourth survived a similar assassination attempt. Iranian officials blame the killings on Israel and the United States, both of which have accused Tehran of pursuing a nuclear bomb.
"They are trying to assassinate the Iranian scientists to deprive Iranians from the right of using peaceful nuclear energy," Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview with CNN Wednesday night. "We believe that these terrorist attacks are supported by some elements -- especially within the Israeli regime as well as some quarters around the world."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "categorically" denies any role in the attacks, but urged Iran to halt its quest for a nuclear bomb. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said on his Facebook page Wednesday: "I have no idea who targeted the Iranian scientist but I certainly don't shed a tear."
Iran says its nuclear program is aimed at producing civilian energy, not weapons. But it has rebuffed international demands to halt its enrichment of uranium, and the International Atomic Energy Agency says it has credible evidence that Iran has conducted weapons-related research.
The IAEA, which serves as the U.N. nuclear watchdog, reported in November that it can no longer verify that the Iranian nuclear program remains peaceful.
Thursday's call for retribution comes as Western powers and Japan are tightening the screws on Tehran. Japan announced Thursday it was prepared to gradually reduce oil imports from Iran, which supplies about 10% of its crude supply, while U.S.-led sanctions targeting Iran's central bank are driving down the value of the Iranian currency and driving up consumer prices.
At the same time, U.S. observers say a covert campaign of sabotage appears to be under way against Iran's nuclear program. In addition to the deaths of nuclear researchers, Iran's Natanz enrichment plant -- where Roshan was the deputy director for commercial affairs -- has been hit with a computer worm that Western analysts say has damaged about 10% of the centrifuges used in the enrichment process.
In the face of increased pressure, Iran has threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway at the mouth of the oil-rich Persian Gulf. It brought down and captured a U.S. surveillance drone over its territory and claims to have arrested a dozen American spies, including an Iranian-American former Marine who was sentenced to death this week.
The U.S. State Department says the man, Amir Hekmati, has been falsely accused and called on Iran to release him "without delay." Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have accused Iranian intelligence agencies of plotting to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States with operatives recruited from a Mexican drug cartel, accusations Iran has denied.