While Tehran says the small fire hit an industrial shed, experts say it was a site to produce centrifuges for uranium enrichment
Days after a mysterious late-night explosion at a missile production site outside Tehran, another blast and a blaze on Thursday struck what appears to be a centrifuge production plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, he and Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed to the scene of the fire at the high-security underground enrichment facility.
A photograph later released by the atomic energy agency showed a brick building with scorch marks and its roof apparently destroyed.
It wasn’t clear if that was the “shed” to which Mr Kamalvandi referred. Debris on the ground and a door that looked blown off its hinges suggested an explosion accompanied the blaze.
Although Iranian officials have downplayed the event, it wouldn’t be the first time the site – one of the locations visited by international weapons inspectors – would be the target of sabotage.
Before the fire was reported, journalists at BBC Persian say they received a tip-off from a group calling themselves the Cheetahs of the Homeland claiming responsibility for an “operation” targeting “newly established” production facilities at the nuclear site. They said they targeted above ground buildings so the attack would be undeniable.
The group, which claims to be dissident members of Iran’s security forces, has never been heard of before by Iran experts and the BBC said it could not authenticate the claim.
Data collected by a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite suggested the fire broke out around 2 am local time in the northwest corner of the Natanz compound. Flames from the blaze were bright enough to be detected by the satellite from space.