Iranian Scientist’s Death Stirs Talk of an Atomic ‘Whodunit’

By Marc Perelman

Published February 16, 2007, issue of February 16, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The escalating confrontation between Iran and the West has produced an atomic “whodunit,” with fingers pointing across the Middle East.

Last month, Iran reported the death of Ardeshir Hassanpour, 44, one of the country’s leading nuclear scientists. The news fueled a wave of rumors and conspiracy theories in cyberspace.

Radio Farda, which is funded by the U.S. State Department and broadcasts into Iran, reported “mysterious circumstances.” Iranian dissidents claimed it was a Tehran-ordered hit because Hassanpour, a professor at Shiraz University, “was leaking information to the West.” One U.S. security consulting firm proclaimed that the killing was part of a Mossad effort to thwart Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

None of the above, according to the Iranian government. Tehran blamed the death on a freak accident, saying that Hassanpour died from “gas suffocation at his home.”

The case has generated “Internet buzz,” said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Of course, there are many people wondering if Israel is repeating its successful campaign against scientists working on the Egyptian missile program in the 1960s,” he added. “I really don’t know what happened.”

The first Iranian reports of Hassanpour’s demise came January 21, six days after his death, and blamed the tragedy on “gas poisoning,” according to Radio Farda. On February 2, Stratfor, a company based in the United States, asserted that Israel had ordered a hit on Hassanpour. The company cited “very strong intelligence” that the physicist died from “radioactive poisoning” as part of a Mossad effort to halt the Iranian nuclear program — a theory that was repeated two days later in the London Times.

And while some observers believed that Tehran would seize upon the charges to blast Jerusalem, the opposite happened. Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, was quickly quoted as saying that all of Iran’s nuclear experts, “thank God, are sound and safe.” And the Fars news cited an unidentified “informed source” as saying that Hassanpour had been “suffocated by fumes from a faulty gas fire in sleep”; the source also rejected as propaganda the theory about Mossad participation. The Israeli intelligence agency “is basically incapable of running operations inside Iran,” the source reportedly said. The next day, AlArabiya.net, a Saudi-owned online news service, added a new dimension to the mystery by relaying the claims of Ali Nourizadeh, longtime critic of the regime, that the Iranian government had in fact assassinated Hassanpour.

Nourizadeh, a London based journalist, offered a number of reasons for pointing the finger at Tehran, including the claim that Hassanpour was leaking information about the Iranian nuclear program to Western countries. Also, Nourizadeh said, Iranian officials were annoyed with Hassanpour’s repeated warnings about the danger of an accident at a nuclear reactor.

Nourizadeh told Al Arabiya that he received an e-mail from Hassanpour two weeks prior to his death, in which he expressed his concerns and complained that he was being followed.

“Two weeks later,” Nourizadeh was quoted as saying, “I received a letter from one of his students telling me that the man was ‘killed’ in his home and that they found his body three days later.”

According to Nourizadeh, Iranian suspicions about the scientist were prompted by a visit he made to Dubai and by the possibility that he met Americans on that occasion. Hassanpour, Nourizadeh added, had decided to stop cooperating with the regime following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in August 2005, because he saw him as dangerous for the country.

But while Nourizadeh described Hassanpour as “a genius in the manufacturing of missiles in Iran” who worked for the leading government weaponry agencies and played a “prominent role” in designing Iranian missiles, the Fars news agency stated that he did not work at nuclear facilities and was merely a university professor at Shiraz.

Media reports have stated that he received Iran’s most prestigious military-research prize in 2004 and the top award at an international science conference last year.

Though the mystery remains unsolved, a couple of things are certain: Hassanpour is dead, and footage of his funeral was posted on the Internet.

Or was it?






Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.