TEHRAN - Thousands of mourners chanted “Death to Israel’’ and “Death to America’’ yesterday during the funeral of a slain nuclear expert whom Iranian officials accuse the two nations of killing in a bomb blast this week as part of a secret operation to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan has raised calls in Iran for retaliation against the United States and Israel, and an independent news website yesterday said Iran is preparing a covert counteroffensive against the West.
Roshan, a chemistry specialist and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, was killed in a daylight assassination when two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car Wednesday in Tehran. The killing bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the nuclear program.
State TV showed thousands of people accompanying Roshan’s coffin through central Tehran before it was taken to a north cemetery for burial. As they marched, members of the crowd chanted “Death to terrorists.’’
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, called Roshan’s killing a “cowardly assassination’’ and accused the United States and Israel of being behind the attack. He vowed Thursday that the perpetrators and those who ordered the attack would be punished.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a vague condemnation of the killing during a visit yesterday to Lebanon, saying attacks on “any people, whether scientist or civilian,’’ are not acceptable, according to UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has denied any US role in the slaying, and the administration condemned the attack. Israeli officials, in contrast, have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.
The assassination was carried out a day after Israeli military chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a “critical year’’ for Iran - in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally.’’
That prompted Hossein Shariatmadari, director of the hard-line Iranian daily newspaper Kayhan, to ask why Iran did not avenge Roshan by striking Israel.