Things that make you go boom

You might remember Darioush Rezaienejad (داریوش رضایی نژاد) – a young Iranian who met his demise in a mysterious shooting in Tehran in 2011.

Quite apart from the tragedy of a young man dying, Rezaienejad’s death caused a modicum of confusion in the press. Some initial media reports announced that the victim was a physics lecturer named Dr Darioush Rezaie: it was soon realised that that man was very much still alive. (Reading the newspaper over his cornflakes that morning, Dr Rezaie must have been rather surprised to discover that he was in fact dead.)

The actual victim, we now know, was this man:

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Darioush Rezaienejad1, who was described at his funeral as a postgraduate engineering student.

That’s what he was doing after hours, at least. What we also know is that before he died, Rezaeinejad was conducting some very interesting research – indeed, research with a suspiciously nuclear flavour. Just look at this 2008 paper of his. It’s about electronic devices called high‑voltage spark gaps: these are crucial components in nuclear warheads, used to set off things called exploding bridgewire detonators, or EBWs, which in turn cause nuclear weapons to implode. This wasn’t the sort of research that your garden variety engineering student gets stuck into in between voyages to the bar.

Indeed, that research paper is our entry into a very interesting subculture – the select group of Iranian scientists who have researched the components of nuclear weapons that actually make them explode. This technology is extremely niche: it includes spark gaps, EBWs and other electronic gadgetry, as well as specialised high explosive compounds like RDX, HMX and Octol. The careful assembly of all of these things is needed to provide a perfect implosion that puts pressure on a uranium or plutonium pit such that it goes boom, and not bust.

I’m quite sure that Rezaienejad was deeply involved in this subculture. And it’s this group that I want to explore.

Why Darioush?

There are three compelling indicators that Darioush Rezaienejad was working in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The first I’ve already mentioned – he was publishing research on what essentially are nuclear weapon components. Spark gaps might technically be considered dual-use, but no less an authority than the IAEA has characterised Iran’s interest in this technology as indicative of intent for use in nuclear weapons.

Second, you can see that Rezaienejad’s 2008 research paper was written under the auspices of Iran’s Malek Ashtar University ( ملک اشتردانشگاه). As of 2008, as the IAEA has described, this was the very institution that housed Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s nuclear weapons research organisation (the former AMAD organisation now known as SPND). The Malek Ashtar University seal on this paper, combined with the nature of the research, is a pretty good signature that it was published under Fakhrizadeh’s watch.

The third factor is the real clincher. Just look at Rezaienejad’s co-author on the spark gap paper: his name is Mojtaba Dadashnejad ( داداش نژادمجتبی). Google Dadashnejad’s name – no-one else seems to have done so – and you’ll see that he’s been outed as a senior official in an Iranian organisation called the Centre for Research and Development of Explosion and Shock Technology (CREST) or METFAZ, after its Persian acronym (مرکز تحقیقات فناوری ضربه و انفجار، یا مفتاز ).

Who’s CREST? Well, no less an authority than the IAEA (they’re a helpful bunch) has identified CREST as a sub-group of the evolving nuclear weapons research effort managed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. CREST appears here, on page 23 of IAEA’s comprehensive study of the evolution of Fakhrizadeh’s organisation:

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That affiliation, to my mind, is the strongest evidence that Rezaienejad was – wittingly or unwittingly – part of Iran’s nuclear weapons research program.

CREST – for healthy beautiful explosions

CREST itself is relatively well-known to the Iran nuke experts out there. It’s the organisation that inherited and presumably further developed the multi‑point initiation system design donated to Iran by Russian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko. CREST may well have also imploded some of Seyed Hadavi’s giant tungsten balls inside Danilenko’s test chamber at the notorious Parchin site.

Indeed, CREST is so well‑known that the European Union decided to sanction it back in 2011 – using the name METFAZ, confusingly – as well as the organisation’s head, General Javad Al‑Yasin (جواد آل یاسین). The EU even helpfully provided us with CREST’s Tehran office address, so you can go and visit them if you’re ever in Iran: they’re located at no 44, 180th Street West, Tehran Pars. That’s about here:

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There are less well-known CREST facilities too. Because setting off explosions in the middle of downtown Tehran tends to ring alarm bells, CREST has apparently obtained an off-campus laboratory at a village called Sanjariun (سنجریون), which is about an hour drive east of Tehran. It’s located here:

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This facility was half-heartedly outed by the NCRI a couple of years ago, but no-one has really bothered to point out exactly where the building is located. Come on, more effort required here! Given that Sanjariun is a tiny village of about 350 people, it’s really not a hard site to find – there’s only about one compound in the area that fits the description given by the NCRI. Here it is, with important features marked:

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Nice spot, but personally, I wouldn’t want to live next door to an explosives test lab myself – not with my sensitive eardrums. And forget the Parchin chamber of secrets – if I was an IAEA inspector I’d very much like to have a poke around this place. All the uranium and tungsten particles have probably well and truly been cleaned out of Parchin by now, but Sanjarian just might still be a bit dirty.

CREST’s key members

Rezaeinejad and Dadashnejad weren’t the only explosive experts getting about between CREST’s Tehran office and its Sanjarian site. If we sift through the mound of dissident reporting about the circle of researchers linked to these two, as well as the academic papers they’ve written, we can discern what appears to be a relatively small corps of key CREST officials.

Helpfully, this obscure article identifies two of them: Alireza Molaie (علیرضا مولایی) and Ali Mehdipour Omrani (علی مهدی پور عمرانی). Molaie seems to be a real-live Iranian of some engineering talent who also appears in various dissident allegations about Fakhrizadeh’s gang, so I’d readily believe that he’s involved in CREST.

Ali Mehdipour Omrani is even more notorious. According to restauranteur and celebrity chef security analyst Yotam Emanuele Ottolenghi, it was Mehdipour who ran AMAD’s simulated implosion tests using tungsten hemispheres at Parchin. (So it could be said that Hadavi can blame Mehdipour for literally breaking his balls). Mehdipour’s research profile seems to confirm his deep expertise in the nexus between explosives and metallurgy. He’s written about building better bullets; the penetrative effect of projectiles on armor; and the use of high explosives to weld metals together (probably not a technique to use when fixing your leaky gas tank).

Work outward from Mehdipour Omrani using publicly accessible information and you’ll find yourself in the company of some more gentlemen from CREST. According to the NCRI, one of Mehdipour Omrani’s CREST associates is Saeed Borji, who I’ve written about before – Borji’s a well-known explosives guru closely tied to AMAD’s work on multi-point initiation systems. Borji in turn has published research about explosive production of nanodiamonds with an Iranian scientist named Ali Akbar Motallebizadeh (علی اکبر مطلبی زاده), who was sanctioned by the Australian Government. I’d guess that both Borji and Motallebizadeh are either part of CREST, or else very high on the CREST recruitment wish‑list. (And why was Motallebizadeh sanctioned by Australia? Well, as a rule, the only people obsessed with diamonds and explosives are generally either Bond villains or AMAD members).

Finally, I have a sneaking suspicion that Rezaeinejad’s only other known co‑author is probably part of the CREST crew too. This person’s name is Khosrow Keshan Zare (خسرو کشن زارع), with whom Darioush wrote a joint paper on how explosives interact with static electricity (hint: not well). That’s the sort of research that would be right up CREST’s alley.

To tie things off, can I make a plaintive call to the people responsible for designating nefarious Iranians under various sanctions regimes? Only Javad Al-Yasin has been designated, and only by the EU, and none of the other CREST suspects have been sanctioned by the UN. I’d like to suggest the CREST Magnificent Seven as outstanding candidates for designation, asset freezing and travel bans. Here they are once again:

Javad Al-Yasin – جواد آل یاسین

Mojtaba Dadashnejad – مجتبی داداش نژاد

Ali Mehdipour Omrani – علی مهدی پور عمرانی

Alireza Molaie – علیرضا مولایی

Saeed Borji – سعید برجی

Ali Akbar Motallebizadeh – علی اکبر مطلبی زاده

Khosrow Keshan Zare – خسرو کشن زارع

And for all you Iran watchers out there, best to keep an eye on this bunch…

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