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  • Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.
 

Was Iranian Physicist Killed for His Science or Politics?

12 January 2010 10:37 am
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The murky nexus between Iran's nuclear program and the political reformists battling the country's current regime became bloody this morning when a bomb killed Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, 50, a physicist at Tehran University. Ali-Mohammadi died when a bomb placed on a motorcycle detonated outside his apartment as he was heading to work. Almost immediately, conflicting views of the researcher's political views emerged.

According to the Los Angeles Times,

Reformist websites and two students also described him as an outspoken supporter of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Hard-line Iranian officials immediately blamed Israel and the West for the assassination, which came at a time of heightened tension over Iran's nuclear program.

State television described Ali-Mohammadi as a "revolutionary university professor martyred in a terrorist operation by counterrevolutionary agents affiliated" with the West.

Students quoted anonymously in that story say that Ali-Mohammadi recently spoke out against the current regime, abandoning a long-standing position in support of the Revolutionary Guard. One student the Times quoted said the scientist supported the student movement against the government "in his classes."

Ali-Mohammadi's work—he taught "neutron physics" and worked on subatomic particles—is not directly connected to nuclear weapons studies.

There are other reasons to question whether Ali-Mohammadi was killed because of his involvement in the nuclear program.

The Washington Post also questions whether the scientist actually supported the government:

Although his colleagues described him as non-political, both the government and the opposition said that Mohammadi supported their cause. Pro-government media such as the Jahan news Web site described him as "a firm believer in the Islamic system" who recently called for dialogue between both factions. But the Rah-e Sabz Web site published a letter in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi that was written before the disputed June 12 elections and signed by Mohammadi and 419 other scientists.

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