A fire and an explosion struck a centrifuge production plant above Iran's underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility Thursday, analysts said, one of the most tightly guarded sites in all of the Islamic Republic. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to play down the fire, calling it an "incident" that only affected an industrial shed, spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, a facility earlier targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus and built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes, the AP reports. The fire threatened to rekindle wider tensions across the Middle East, similar to the escalation in January after a US drone strike killing a top Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran launched a retaliatory ballistic missile attack targeting American forces in Iraq.
While offering no cause for Thursday's blaze, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency published a commentary addressing the possibility of sabotage by enemy nations such as Israel and the US following other recent explosions in the country. Satellite photos showed an explosion last Friday that rattled Iran's capital came from an area in its eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites. Another explosion from a gas leak at a medical clinic in northern Tehran killed 19 people Tuesday. "There has been no interruption in the work of the enrichment site," Kamalvandi told Iranian state television Thursday. In Washington, the State Department said US officials were "monitoring reports of a fire at an Iranian nuclear facility."
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