Iran: ‘Sabotage attack’ on civilian nuclear center foiled

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian authorities have thwarted what they called a “sabotage attack” targeting a civilian nuclear facility near the country’s capital, Iranian media reported Wednesday, as details about the incident remained scarce.

Nournews, a website believed to be close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, first reported the attack. The website said the move was foiled “before causing any casualties or damage” to the sprawling center located in Karaj city, just some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Tehran. It said authorities were investigating the cause of the sabotage, without saying how it was carried out.

When asked for comment, an Iranian official referred to the Nournews report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorization to discuss the matter with media. Iranian state TV carried the report on its news ticker, without offering further details. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization describes the Karaj Nuclear Center for Medicine and Agriculture as a facility founded in 1974 that uses nuclear technology to improve “quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production.” The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.

The reported sabotage follows several suspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna to resurrect Tehran’s tattered 2015 atomic deal with world powers.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. unilaterally out of the nuclear deal and reimposed devastating sanctions, setting off a series of tense incidents that threatened the wider Mideast.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, mysterious fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out the sabotage, though it has not claimed it. Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60%, its highest ever levels, although still short of weapons grade. Iran has said that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the U.S. lifts its sanctions.

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Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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