The recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist was carried out remotely with the help of satellite guidance, artificial intelligence and facial recognition, according to Iranian military officials cited by Iranian media on Sunday.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, believed to be the mastermind of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was traveling by car east of Tehran when he was shot dead on the afternoon of Friday, November 27. There are conflicting reports on how the attack unfolded, but most Iranian accounts agree that it was a sophisticated attack with gunfire and an explosion.
The killing deployed an “advanced electronic tool” guided by a “satellite device,” according to Second Brigadier General Ramazan Sharif, spokesman for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as reported by Iran’s semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).
According to another Iranian state-backed news agency, the Young Journalists Club (YJC), the IRGC Deputy Commander-In-Chief Sardar Ali Fadavi said that the assassination was carried out with artificial intelligence and facial recognition.
Fadavi said, according to YJC, that there were no attackers on the scene and that a machine gun-controlled via satellite recognized Fakhrizadeh’s face and targeted him. “We’ve checked and found out that a satellite was controlling a machinegun remotely, and there was no terrorist at the scene,” Fadavi said, according to YJC.
However, intelligence and security experts have cast doubt on the possibility that the assassination was remotely operated, with three experts telling CNN that despite the advantages, it introduces more risk factors into an operation with little apparent room for error.
While the technology to fire at a target from a remote-controlled vehicle exists, a country or actor would have had to smuggle in valuable equipment, including communications relays, satellite receivers and a weapon that could be operated remotely, the experts said. Any issues, like a jammed gun or communications failure, could also compromise the entire assassination and leave the technology on the side of the road for Iranian security forces to intercept.
While providing no evidence, top Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the assassination, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and others have promised revenge for the killing. The Israeli government did not have any comment on the allegations.
Israeli Minister of Settlement Affairs Tzachi Hanegbi said on Saturday, November 28 that he had “no idea” who assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, but called it “very embarrassing for Iran.”
Last week, a senior US administration official said Israel was behind the assassination but declined to give details about whether the Trump administration knew about the attack before it was carried out or provided support.
The official said that in the past, Israelis have shared information with the US about their targets and covert operations before carrying them out but would not say if they did so in this instance. Fakhrizadeh had been a target for the Israelis for a long time, the official added.
Iran has repeatedly maintained that its nuclear program has been used exclusively for peaceful purposes, but Israel and other states accuse Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, in a program they say was masterminded by Fakhrizadeh.
Last week, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiee said the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence had provided the government with a “terrorist operation alert” warning a few months and days before Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.
Ramin Mostaghim reported from Tehran, Mohammed Tawfeeq reported from Atlanta. Tamara Qiblawi contributed reporting.