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Explained: The remote weapon technology allegedly used to assassinate Iran’s top nuclear scientist

Mehr news agency quoted Commodore Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as saying a satellite-controlled machine gun was used to kill Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. What is this technology?

By: Explained Desk | Kolkata | Updated: December 15, 2020 3:16:07 pm
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh assassination, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh killing, who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh nuclear tech, indian expressCaretakers from the Imam Reza holy shrine carry the flag draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist linked to the country's disbanded military nuclear program, who was killed on Friday, during a funeral ceremony in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Iran’s government-backed Mehr news agency reported that a satellite-controlled machine gun was used to assassinate top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last week. Since Fakhrizadeh’s killing on November 27, various reports of how he was assassinated have surfaced, but the latest is among the most detailed accounts to have emerged.

Who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?

According to a Reuters report, US intelligence agencies believe that Fakhrizadeh headed a coordinated nuclear weapons programme in Iran that was stopped in 2003, where he oversaw activities “in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran’s) nuclear programme”.

Iran’s nuclear weapons programme has been a bone of contention between Tehran and Washington D.C., although the former insists that the development of the programme is not for any hostile purposes.

“Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving (Fakhrizadeh), and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle,” Reuters reported Iran’s armed forces saying in a statement.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addressed the killings saying: “Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators.”📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What were earlier reports suggesting?

There have been varying reports of how Fakhrizadeh was killed. Early reports had suggested that he was killed in the midst of a gunfight between his bodyguards. Subsequent reports said he was shot multiple times by a remote-controlled machine gun mounted on a truck that was being operated by an individual who had fled Iran shortly after the killing.

But on Sunday, Mehr news agency quoted Commodore Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, saying that a satellite-controlled machine gun had been used to kill Fakhrizadeh in Absard, a town located a few kilometers to the east of Tehran, where 13 shots had been fired at the scientist, killing him, targeting him with such precision that his wife sitting inches away from him in the car escaped without injuries. Latest reports say the killers did not come in close proximity to Fakhrizadeh.

At the time of the killing, Fadavi had said 11 bodyguards in separate cars were accompanying Fakhrizadeh. Initial news reports had said that during the attack, a bomb in a Nissan pickup truck nearby had also exploded.

Reuters reported Hossein Dehghan, military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying: “In the last days of the political life of their … ally (Trump), the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” while Zarif too accused Israel of playing a “serious role” in the killing Fakhrizadeh.

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What was the technology used to kill Fakhrizadeh?

The Mehr news agency said that the weapon used to kill Fakhrizadeh remotely, “zoomed in” on him “using artificial intelligence,” singling him out inside his car, leaving his wife unhurt. According to a Forbes report, remotely controlled ground weapons and machine guns are being increasingly used in conflicts across the Middle East.

The use of remote weapons in conflicts is nothing new Forbes reports; they first surfaced during the Second World War. The report suggests that insurgents involved in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are known to have launched attacks using a technology similar to what was deployed in Fakhrizadeh’s killing, where a machine-gunner is set on top of an armored vehicle with improvised explosive device or sniper fire.

“The systems are fully stabilized, so the gunner can keep a machine gun on target even from a vehicle moving over rough terrain,” the Forbes report says. There are several reasons why these systems are being more widely used. “Tactically they provide a stable, accurate firing platform, and without the stress of being shot at, remote gunners tend to be more calculating in their shots,” Forbes reported.

Since these systems operate remotely, the likelihood of operatives being killed or captured is significantly lower. According to Forbes, these attacks are also impossible to trace.

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