An Iranian nuclear facility appears to have been the target of sabotage, and a previously unknown self-declared dissident group calling itself the Homeland Cheetahs claimed responsibility, The New York Times and BBC News reported on Thursday.
A fire on Thursday dealt extensive damage to a building at the nuclear complex at Natanz, Iran’s largest uranium-enrichment facility.
An unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence official told The Times the blast was the result of an explosive placed in a part of the facility where centrifuges are balanced before going into operation. Centrifuges are tube-shaped machines that help enrich uranium.
Though sabotage is suspected, it’s also possible the explosion on Thursday was an accident. Given that the complex is not known to hold combustible materials that could lead to that type of blast, however, experts cautioned against accepting either conclusion too soon.
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, told The Times that the assembly facility “wouldn’t be prone to these kinds of accidents.”
“They get subcomponents and put them together. You wouldn’t have a lot of flammable liquids. The assembly operations are not dangerous per se,” Albright said. “It seems like it could be sabotage. It’s a high-value site for the Iranians. It’s a very important building.”
The Atomic Energy Agency of Iran (AEOI) acknowledged there was an incident at the facility but did not deem it sabotage. Behruz Kamalvandi, an agency spokesman, said there was an incident in “one of the industrial sheds under construction.” No fatalities were reported, and no concerns were raised about radioactive contamination.
Read more: Business Insider