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December 3, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9663

Former Head Of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Abbasi-Davani Hints That Iranian Nuclear Chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Was Working On Nuclear Weapons And That Is Why He Was Assassinated – Part II: The Full Interview

December 3, 2021
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 9663

The following report is a complimentary offering from the MEMRI Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP). For more information, write to [email protected] with "ITMP Subscription" in the subject line.

This report is Part II of the November 30, 2021 MEMRI report of an interview given by Prof. Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), to the Iran daily newspaper on the occasion of the first anniversary of the assassination of Iranian nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. In the interview, published November 27, 2021, Abbasi-Davani hinted that Fakhrizadeh had been advancing a military nuclear program for developing nuclear weapons and for that reason he was assassinated.

"Defense innovation," said Abbasi-Davani in the interview, about the topic/subject/area/field? that Fakhrizadeh had directed as head of the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), includes  "a wide range of science and technology – nuclear technology, missiles, electronics, and so on – and they are an automatic derivation of [defense innovation]." 

Noting that "there may be speculation that these scientists tried to attain a nuclear bomb and were therefore assassinated," he added: "[O]ur refraining from nuclear weapons is clear, based on the explicit fatwa of the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] completely banning nuclear weapons. But Fakhrizadeh created this system, and his interest was not only the defense of our country, because our country is the backbone of the resistance front – and when we get into these matters the Zionists become sensitive. It was not only Mr. Fakhrizadeh. Other directors in our group [share] such traits. The enemy identified traits of Mr. Fakhrizadeh's [for which] he had to be physically eliminated. They are also looking for other [scientists], and any time they can, they assassinate our people." 

He stated that assassination is "the method they [Iran's enemies] use, and they will not stop unless we endanger them – that is, we must cross several scientific borders as soon as possible to show our capability and to defend our people..."

This report will focus on the full translation of Abbasi-Davani's statements to the Iran daily and will present, in an appendix, the MEMRI reports on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's fatwa ostensibly banning nuclear weapons. The following is the translation of Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani's interview:

Abbasi-Davani: "Fakhrizadeh Was The Country's Leading Expert In Detecting Nuclear Radiation"; In The 1990s He Directed "The Preparation Of An Initial Roadmap For Developing Iran's Nuclear Industry"

Q: "We know that you were close for many years with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, and with other nuclear scientists who died as martyrs. To start, it would be good to discuss briefly the history of your acquaintance and joint work with Fakhrizadeh and his colleagues."

Abbasi-Davani: "I first met Fakhrizadeh in December 1987. We worked in the defense unit on nuclear defense. He had studied nuclear physics and was introduced by the Revolutionary Guards Ministry (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – IRGC at that time) [1982-1989; after that it became the country's Defense Ministry] with the aim of cooperating with us. He was very persistent, and his job was scientific work and teaching foreign materials [on this subject]. We worked together for nearly six years, and his knowledge and experience grew over time. Fakhrizadeh was the country's leading expert in detecting nuclear radiation.

"Around 1993, he gradually left the laboratory and moved to administrative activity. From 1994, he directed the physics department at [the IRGC's] Imam Hossein University. Around 1995, meetings began to be held with lecturers from various universities, including [uranium enrichment expert Majid] Shahriari [who was assassinated in November 2010; Abbasi-Davani himself was wounded in this attack] and [quantum physics expert] Ali Mohammadi [who was assassinated in January 2010]; [these meetings] were led by Fakhrizadeh.

"The project continued for nearly three years, and led to the preparation of an initial roadmap for developing Iran's nuclear industry. This roadmap showed the roles of the universities and of the various [government] offices, the status of the nuclear energy and the defensive [nuclear] field in the country, and what industrial tools we had in our power to build and manufacture if we wanted to work in the nuclear industry.

"Fakhrizadeh was appointed [to a senior post in] the Defense Ministry in 1998, and played a key role in the project of the transformation of [Iran's] nuclear industry. Likewise, based on the principle and the idea that military forces should be involved in rebuilding the country in peacetime, he acted to support nuclear energy, as an expert in the scientific unit on issues such as sound technology, laser technology, and nuclear technology.

"The picture you presented of the collaboration of nuclear scientists is an innovative image, because it is very rare for lecturers from several different universities to sit together and, together, try to solve one of the country's scientific issues. Whenever Fakhrizadeh saw a smart guy who had come to work in the country, it didn't matter to him whether [this guy] was connected to the army, the IRGC, or the Defense Ministry. He brought him in and tried to give him a foundation for his scientific growth. Among these people was the martyr Shahriari, who prior to [his assassination] designed a calculation program for a problem that arose during the production of fuel [i.e. uranium, enriched to] 20%.

"I became responsible for [the area of] nuclear energy three months after the assassination [of Shahriari] and I had to solve the problem based on these calculations. I asked Fakhrizadeh to help in this matter. The manpower and equipment at the AEOI needed skill that Fakhrizadeh had in the system, and thanks to his presence the work progressed and in 2010 or 2011, 20%-enriched fuel rods were created.

"Fakhrizadeh was also interested in the philosophy of science, and with the help of friends who were familiar with the philosophy of science, we prepared a doctoral program for the philosophy of science at the Imam Hossein University. On the morning of his assassination (January 11, 2010), Dr. Ali Mohammadi held a meeting on the philosophy of science with Fakhrizadeh, as they did every Monday at 7:30 AM.

"Fakhrizadeh was on a high scientific level and could have worked with and organized various experts in various spheres in the country. He specialized in both detecting nuclear radiation and in nuclear calculation. During those years, he worked hard to advance the nuclear industry in the country, playing a central role and supporting all the experts in the country in all the universities. Fakhrizadeh was in charge of disseminating this technology in all the universities and also of cultivating and training units and building various laboratories."

Abbasi-Davani: "We Worked Together And Created A Close Relationship Between The AOEI And The SPND"; "We Tried To Establish A Series Of Joint Companies – That Is, We Brought Experts, A Military Group Came, And The Government Also"

Q: "Naturally, these influences made him [Fakhrizadeh] a target for the evil assassination program. Was the assassination attempt against Fakhrizadeh unprecedented, taking into account the history of assassinations of [Iranian] nuclear scientists?"

Abbasi-Davani: "The possibility of his being assassinated had been discussed since about 2009. In 2008, they wanted to assassinate me and Fakhrizadeh and another man who was active in [the city of] Isfahan. Of course, their priority was Fakhrizadeh. From that point on, he was protected by security forces personnel, to the point where they changed his residence and not even I knew where he lived until he [was assassinated], despite all the family trips we took [together]. He was under security for 12 years and had a bodyguard. It can be said that these guards succeeded in delaying his assassination. In 2008, a squad came to strike at him. The security forces discovered the squad and thwarted the assassination operation."


Fakhrizadeh (Source: Iran, November 27, 2021.  

Q: "Was the 2008 assassination squad from the Mossad?"

Abbasi-Davani: "It was a joint squad. Most of the intelligence-gathering was conducted by Mojahedin-e Khalq and antirevolutionary [forces] inside Iran. The British MI6 was also very active and played a key role in identifying nuclear scientists and even directly exposed its own [role].

"The CIA, the Mossad, and the antirevolutionary groups operating [in Iran] collaborated in identifying people [i.e. nuclear scientists], their jobs, what was in their offices and where their desks were, where their computers were, what projects they were working on, what classes they taught, and what their expertise was."

Q: "What do you mean when you say that MI6 directly exposed its own [role]?"  

Abbasi-Davani: "That is, its agent would come and say 'I'm from MI6 and I want to talk to you.' That is, they would go to the home of an Iranian expert or businessman abroad and officially ask him questions about the person who was a target for assassination."

Q: "Did they speak with you as well?"

Abbasi-Davani: "No, they did not speak with me, because I did not travel abroad. Fakhrizadeh and Shahriari did not travel [abroad either]. They [MI6] were asking people who went to conferences, lived [abroad] for a while, or had an opportunity to study [there], or who went to visit family [abroad]. These approaches [of Iranians abroad by MI6] showed that they were working hard on [the assassination of] Fakhrizadeh. This was even though until recently no photo of Fakhrizadeh had been leaked. Nevertheless, Fakhrizadeh was on the sanctions list. My name and his were mentioned in UN Security Council Resolution 1747, in March 2007, and we and a few others were subject to sanctions according to this resolution. They told us that they would assassinate us. It was clear to us that there was a price to pay for the struggle and for Iran's growth and progress.

Q: "When Fakhrizadeh [was assassinated], he was the head of the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND). Did you collaborate with him in the SPND?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Until recently, every time Fakhrizadeh had new work that needed to be done quickly, he would send it to me. I was at the university, and he was at Malek Ashtar University [of Technology] and the Defense Ministry. When I came to the AEOI, I asked him to come work together [with me] and conditions became such that we worked together and created a close relationship between the AEOI and the above [SPND] group. We tried to establish a series of joint companies. That is, we brought experts, a military group came, and the government also came in via the AEOI and created administrative cohesion in specific issues; we directed and boosted our financial, human, and equipment resources.

"As long as I was in the AEOI, this relationship existed and the work was done. But in 2013 Fakhrizadeh was not treated well, as the Rohani government took power and I left the AEOI. At the same time, he managed to resist, and to strengthen the organization [SPND] until his death.


Abbasi-Davani (Source: Iran, November 27, 2021)

Q: "That is, he [Fakhrizadeh] continued to work collaboratively with the AOEI?"

Abbasi-Davani: "No. They [AEOI members] collaborated with and helped as long as I was there [until the beginning of the Rohani presidency in 2013]. When I left, the SPND no longer wanted to help Fakhrizadeh and stagnated, and the AEOI stagnated [as well]. Fakhrizadeh had other tasks. For example, recently he had followed the issue of establishing a biological organization. Afterwards, he dealt with detecting COVID and creating a vaccine. The [Iranian COVID] vaccine, [named] Fakhra, was the result of his efforts in the country's same new security research system [SPDN]."

Q: "Did the obstacles put in place by the previous government, and its refusal to cooperate, have ramifications for the work of the SPND?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Yes, there were restrictions, but it was predicted that these restrictions would have no impact. They tried hard to restrict him [Fakhrizadeh], such as in the AEOI. [But], thank God, at the head of the state stood intelligent people who helped strengthen this system, an achievement of which was a kit for [detecting] COVID, and in my opinion this is a trivial [achievement]. To say that Fakhrizadeh worked on building this kit for [detecting] COVID was to somewhat downplay his value.

"Fakhrizadeh was a very prominent administrator in the country and his scientific aspect surpassed his administrative aspect. He had a great deal of charisma and he got along with everyone. They did not get along [with each other]. Many university lecturers did not get along with each other but Fakhrizadeh got along with them. For seven years, until 2005, I worked with him in the same defense group [inside the SPND].

"Fakhrizadeh was interested in scientific issues and researched the issue of cosmic radiation. Before I headed [the AEOI], the Defense Ministry asked for a scholarship for Fakhrizadeh, and the Science Ministry gave him a scholarship because he was eligible. He [Fakhrizadeh] wanted of course to use the scholarship to study inside the country, and I managed to get the Nuclear Science and Technology Institute in the AEOI to agree [to this].  

"When I told the director of the institute that Fakhrizadeh wanted to be accepted [to it], he said that [Fakhrizadeh] was a top-level scientist and that they were proud that he wanted to come study there, and on the spot he wrote and signed the letter [of acceptance] and sent it to the Science Ministry. Even his doctoral dissertation was on the subject of detecting nuclear radiation. At the same time, as you pointed out, he already was in the offices of the scientific research and worked with the work group preparing a roadmap for [Iran's] nuclear development.

"Fakhrizadeh was assigned to the Defense Ministry around 1998 and was transferred a few years later. We [at the AEOI] were also at the Defense Ministry for a while, but we also taught at Imam Hossein University. I believe that God guided us regarding what was done in the scientific research office. Once they called me from the Science Ministry and although I was not ready to work on software issues, since I am a physicist, but I fell into it. It was as if I had to start to work on this software so that the martyr Shahriari would need it later to do his doctoral dissertation, and this was the background to the story of how we met. Had I not met Shahriari, I would not have done a doctorate at all and would have remained in the same administrative role. I believe that the hand of God was with the group of people that worked together."

Abbasi-Davani: "There May Be Speculation That These Scientists Tried To Attain A Nuclear Bomb And Were Therefore Assassinated"

Q: "Did Fakhrizadeh's string of prayer beads protect this group over the years?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Indeed, that is surely the reason. Fakhrizadeh was the talent that was needed to attract various people around him, and one of the reasons he was assassinated was his [professional] expertise and at the same time his ability to direct strategic issues. They [Iran's enemies] had identified Fakhrizadeh since the 1990s.

Q: "How was this identification [of Fakhrizadeh] carried out?"

Abbasi-Davani: "It seems that they compiled a list of the names of the lecturers on the bulletin board on the wall of the lecture hall, and passed them on as information to the foreign [intelligence] agencies, and they showed up later on the websites of the Mojahedin[-e Khalk]. Because only two names that were not on the signs on the rooms were missing."

Q: "Did they give the names of the professors at Imam Hossein University?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Yes, since they were active in nuclear research. Had this not been the case, then there would not have been a discussion on nuclear research at all. There was also wiretaps on the telephone. For example, one of them [i.e. of the enemies of Iran] called and talked to me in order to obtain information. He [presented himself] as a secretary and I presented [myself] as someone else. He said that they wanted to hold a conference and that Abbasi [me] and Fakhrizadeh would give lectures, [and therefore] asked for their [that is, our] curricula vitae. I calmly told him, 'You surely know them if you want them to give lectures.' He said that they wanted fuller [details about Fakhrizadeh and I]. That is, [the enemies of Iran] tried to obtain information over the phone in this way.

"Fakhrizadeh was defined as a 'black box' because he never published articles and his photo was never published. But they [Iran's enemies] obtained information about him from other people. Lecturers like Ali Mohammadi and Shahriari, who wrote articles, could be analyzed from their photos and articles.

"Fakhrizadeh was very high-level in scientific organization and administration. There were no lecturers like him. In addition to these traits, he could launch new projects and advance the work and sacrifice his life. He was also a very disciplined person who dealt with other issues such as the study of the philosophy of science, poetry, and so on. He was with his family from 7 PM and worked 12 hours a day. At the same time, there may be speculation that these scientists tried to attain a nuclear bomb and were therefore assassinated."

"Were there any lecturers at the university who asked Fakhrizadeh for help in the various fields – in physics, mechanics, meteorology, electricity, and more – whom he did not provide with facilities and for whom he did not define a project? [That is, Fakhrizadeh helped everyone].

"The name of the organization that he directed was the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research or the Organization for New Security Research [SPND]. This means that if you want to work on defense innovation, there is a need for a wide range of science and technology – nuclear technology, missiles, electronics, and so on – and they are an automatic derivation of [defense innovation].  

"Ultimately, our refraining from nuclear weapons is clear, based on the explicit fatwa of the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] completely banning nuclear weapons. But Fakhrizadeh created this system, and his interest was not only the defense of our country, because our country is the backbone of the resistance front – and when we get into these matters the Zionists become sensitive. It was not only Mr. Fakhrizadeh. Other directors in our group [share] such traits. The enemy identified traits of Mr. Fakhrizadeh's [for which] he had to be physically eliminated. They are also looking for other [scientists], and any time they can, they assassinate our people." 

Abbasi-Davani: Assassinations Are "The Method They [Iran's Enemies] Use, And They Will Not Stop Unless We Endanger Them – That Is, We Must Cross Several Scientific Borders As Soon As Possible To Show Our Capability And To Defend Our People"

Abbasi-Davani: "However, Fakhrizadeh was at the top of their priority list for many years. Fakhrizadeh was [a target for Iran's enemies] at least since 2009, and I believe even before that. Sanctions were placed on him since 2007. According to our security forces, they formed the assassination team [targeting Fakhrizadeh] in 2006. The enemy identified him but had no access [to him]. However, when the country made a comprehensive leap in the field of satellites, missiles, and nuclear weapons, and we surpassed the boundaries of knowledge in various [fields], the issue became more serious for them.

"Meanwhile, at the time [of his assassination] some opposition [anti-regime] media outlets tried to claim that he was not a nuclear scientist. The stream that did not want to present [Fakhrizadeh] as a scientist said he was a junior IRGC administrator. That's how they presented him. Or [they claimed he was involved in producing] COVID detection kits, [in order] to downplay his value, because COVID was spreading among the population. To say that someone in the Islamic Republic [of Iran] was making COVID kits and was therefore assassinated is ridiculous.

"I'm not saying that no one from the field of biotechnology was ever murdered. Our scientists are under threat [in that field] as well. However, Fakhrizadeh was an obstacle, because what he was doing was clear, while they [Iranian pragmatists who opposed Fakhrizadeh] did not want him to continue [with the military nuclear program]. Both in 2003 [in the context of the U.S. presence around Iran] and in 2013 [during the nuclear talks with the U.S.], conflicts arose regarding whether these elements [Fakhrizadeh and Abbasi-Davani] should resign or leave. Their justification [for having them leave] was that they wanted to go make peace with the world, and this [the nuclear weapons program] was in the way. Since their names were on the [UNSC] resolution, and since the enemy was threatening them, it was better for them to stay away. Nevertheless, the rationality of the [Iranian regime] system did not allow such a thing to happen. [Iran's enemies] placed the assassination plan on their agenda when they failed to get rid of Fakhrizadeh by creating this internal atmosphere."

Q: "Why did they assassinate [electrical engineering doctoral student] Mr. [Darioush] Rezai-Nejad [in July 2011]? Was it because he was a student at the Khajeh Nasr [Oldeen Toosi] University [of Technology]? What was it about Rezai-Nejad that made [Iran's enemies] assassinate him?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Rezai-Nejad was our genius colleague. He left his studies for a time, leaving his master's half-finished, because it wasn't important to him. Instead he came and worked, becoming a national expert."

Q: "In what field?"

Abbasi-Davani: "In the field of electromagnetics. He developed special methods for creating imaging devices that can photograph aircraft engines in operation. He created a small-scale imaging device using electronics and technology called 'power pulse.' Mr. Rezai-Nejad acquired this specialty in this country, without going abroad. This expertise, combined with expertise in fusion physics or nuclear physics, turns into an X generator and neutrons. Mr. Rezai-Nejad was able to prepare the ground for others in the field, and was later encouraged to go complete his master's degree in the field. He knew all the [course] material and did not need to study. He put his thesis on the desk at the beginning of the semester, saying that these were his calculations. It only took two or three experiments before the teacher told him to write an article, and he did. Mr. Fakhrizadeh was able to manage a man like Rezai-Nejad in his field."

Q: "Was Fakhrizadeh in contact with Mr. Rezai-Nejad?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Yes. Mr. Rezai-Nejad used to say that he liked Mr. Fakhrizadeh's management style, and I liked him [Rezai-Nejad] too. Fakhrizadeh would also encourage people like him to work. In my opinion, the enemy should fear us much more than it does now. Our people are being assassinated in order to weaken us, frighten us, and break our organization, because they know how strong we are, and they believe it is better to assassinate Iran's elite than to harm its [nuclear] facilities. This is the method they [Iran's enemies] use, and they will not stop unless we endanger them – that is, we must cross several scientific borders as soon as possible to show our capability and to defend our people by replicating them [those who were assassinated] and reproducing [their] knowledge in textbooks. These sciences should be taken to the universities and made available to the society. Thus, it [nuclear expertise] will serve as an operating system that cannot be shut down by assassinating people."

Q: "Do you have any memories of [assassinated nuclear scientists] Mr. [Majid] Shahriari or Ali Mohammadi that relate to Mr. Fakhrizadeh?"

Abbasi-Davani: "Mr. Fakhrizadeh was like a brother to those men. Fakhrizadeh and Shahriari had charismatic personalities. But Fakhrizadeh's charisma was on a larger scale, a quality which made people flock to him. Fakhrizadeh was very patient, patient with people and hardships. He supported everyone and said that the regime should have room for all citizens. [Fakhrizadeh] was under restrictions starting in 2013, when his field of operation was taken from him, and so on. However, thanks to foresight and [successful] preparation, the restrictions had only a slight impact. I'm not saying that these restrictions had zero effect. They limited him to some extent, and almost made him disband and shutter the organization, but ultimately they did not succeed."

Q: "Do you recall what you were told about this?"

Abbasi-Davani: "One of his friends related that [Fakhrizadeh] had started a new job, at a time when he was under a lot of pressure. He really could make something out of nothing. His patience, and his understanding of the importance of the issue... He consulted with others. Ali Mohammadi was a very important advisor to him, because he had a strong grasp of physics and worked with precision.

"The martyrs found each other, which I consider [proof] of Allah's power. For example, how did Rezai-Nejad meet Ali Mohammadi? By total chance, in my office. Or, how did I meet Mr. Shahriari? [I met him] after I delivered my work to Mr. Fakhrizadeh, [and I told Shahriari, who was next in line] that he was up next, and I went back to my office to work. Scientific activity should not be compartmentalized; it needs people to connect with each other, and not run away from each other after meeting for the first time. Fakhrizadeh had the power to bring in people from different places and to bring out the best in them. He even knew where to work and how to cultivate everyone at the same time."[i]

Appendix: Khamenei's Nonexistent Nuclear Fatwa

The following are MEMRI reports on the issue of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's fatwa banning nuclear weapons – which does not exist:

 

[1] Iran (Iran), November 27, 2021.

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