Iran names suspect in Natanz attack, says he fled the country

Iran names suspect in Natanz attack, says he fled the country


Iran on Saturday named a suspect in the attack on his nuclear facility in Natanz that damaged centrifuges, saying he fled the country “hours before” the sabotage.

While the extent of the damage caused by the April 11 sabotage remains uncertain, it comes as Iran attempts to negotiate with world powers to allow the United States to return to its ragged nuclear deal with world powers and to lift the economic sanctions it faces.

Already, Iran has started enriching uranium up to 60% purity in response – three times more than ever before, but in small amounts. Sabotage and Iran’s response have also heightened tensions across the Middle East, where a shadowy war between Tehran and Israel, the main suspect in the sabotage, still rages on.

State television named the suspect as Reza Karimi, 43. It showed a passport-style photograph of a man identified as Karimi, claiming he was born in the nearby town of Kashan, Iran.

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The report also disseminated what appeared to be a “red notice” from Interpol calling for his arrest. The arrest notice was not immediately accessible in Interpol’s public database. Interpol, based in Lyon, France, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The TV report said “necessary actions” are underway to bring Karimi back to Iran through legal channels, without giving details. Interpol’s supposed “red notice” lists its history of overseas travel as including Ethiopia, Kenya, the Netherlands, Qatar, Romania, Turkey, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates.

The report did not specify how Karimi would have gained access to one of the most secure facilities in the Islamic Republic. However, for the first time, authorities admitted that an explosion had hit the Natanz facility.

There was a “limited explosion of a small part of the power supply path to the centrifuge hall,” the TV report said. “The explosion occurred because of the function of explosive materials and there was no cyber attack.”

Early reports in the Israeli media, which have close ties to its military and intelligence services, accused a cyberattack of the damage.

This satellite photo provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows the Iranian nuclear installation at Natanz on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium on Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, se bringing military grade levels closer to pressure.  talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site.  (Planet Labs via AP)

This satellite photo provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows the Iranian nuclear installation at Natanz on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium on Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, se bringing military grade levels closer to pressure. talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site. (Planet Labs via AP)

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The Iranian state television report also said that there were images that corroborated the account of an explosion rather than a cyberattack offered by the security services, but it did not broadcast those images.

The report also showed centrifuges in a room, along with what appeared to be a warning at the Natanz factory. In one shot, a TV reporter interviewed an anonymous technician, who was shown from behind – likely a safety measure as Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered in alleged attacks orchestrated by Israel in the past.

“The sound you hear is the sound of running machines which luckily are not damaged,” he said, the high-pitched whine of centrifuges heard in the background. “Many of the centrifuge lines which faced faults are now under control. Some of the work that was interrupted will be back on track thanks to the around-the-clock efforts of my colleagues.”

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In Vienna, negotiations continued on Saturday on the agreement. The 2015 deal, from which former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States in 2018, prevented Iran from storing enough highly enriched uranium to be able to use a nuclear weapon if it chose in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, although the West and the IAEA say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program until the end of 2003. An annual US intelligence report released Tuesday maintained the long-standing US assessment that Iran is not currently trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran had previously said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, Iran currently does not have any of these ships in its navy.

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Natanz’s attack was initially described only as a blackout in his power grid – but later Iranian officials began to label it as an attack.

An Iranian official referred to “several thousand damaged and destroyed centrifuges” in an interview on public television. However, no other official has offered the figure and no pictures of the aftermath have been released.

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