Nightly News

Nightly News   |  January 11, 2012

U.S. denies killing Iranian nuclear scientist

The Obama administration is denying any role in the killing of an Iranian university professor working at a key nuclear facility. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> americans woke up to an amazing story this morning from overseas. now the tension between the u.s. and iran has been heightened further, after the assassination of a nuclear scientist in tehran , in broad daylight during this morning's commute, like some of what we've seen in action sequences in movies. tonight, it is by no means clear who did it, but iran is accusing the u.s. and zionists, how they refer to israel . our chief foreign correspondent richard engel with us in the studio.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. today's assassination is part of a long and ongoing secret war against iran's nuclear program . around 8:00 a.m ., an iranian nuclear scientist on his way to work. witnesses say two attackers on a motorcycle eased up behind him, slapped a small bomb to his car with a magnet and slipped away in traffic. the scientist and his bodyguard driver were both killed. the target, 32-year-old mussafa roshan who worked at iran 's uranium enrichment site in procurement. two weeks ago another nuclear scientist was assassinated in iran . five have been killed including a missile expert at this test facility, which mysteriously blew up last november. iran today blamed israel and the united states .

>> i want to categorically deny any united states involvement in any kind of act of violence inside iran .

>> reporter: israel never said it's behind these killings, but former intelligence officials clearly expressed satisfaction.

>> everything short of a full-scale war is better than a full-scare war.

>> reporter: today's james bond style attack comes amid enormous growing tensions over iran's nuclear program . last month, washington approved strict sanctions against iran , already its currency dropped 20%. iran called it an act of war . responding with a show of force. test-firing missiles, a sign to back off. and iran threatened to close the oil corridor, the strait of hormuz. the u.s. fifth fleet says it will make sure the strait stays open. nbc's tehran bureau chief says iran is on edge.

>> the mood here is tense. sanctions are starting to bite and the government is warning the enemy is at the gate. tehran feels it's being subjected to an undeclared war . today's assassination may now prompt iran to respond in kind.

>> reporter: iran says it will continue its nuclear program , which it insists is peaceful. but brian, as tensions increase, so do the risks, specifically the risks that the united states could get involved in a war with iran , another war because of an alleged nuclear program and oil, which may sound very familiar.

>> a lot of people would love to know how this ends and when. richard engel , thanks for your reporting.