1994 AMIA bombing
The AMIA bombing was an attack on the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina building in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. It was Argentina's deadliest bombing. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, the largest in Latin America (see Demographics of Argentina). Argentina marks 1994 bomb attacks, BBC News, July 18, 2006
Over the years, the case has been marked by incompetence and accusations of cover-ups. All suspects in the "local connection" were found to be not guilty in September 2004. In August 2005, federal judge Juan Jose Galeano, in charge of the case, was impeached and removed from his post on charge of "serious" irregularities and of mishandling of the investigation.
On October 25, 2006, Argentine prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos [*] formally accused the government of Iran of directing the bombing, and the Hezbollah militia of carrying it out. According to the prosecution's claims in 2006, Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer contract to Tehran. Acusan a Iran por el ataque a la AMIA, La Nacion, October 26, 2006 This however, has been disputed, because this contract was never terminated, and Iran and Argentina were negotiating on restoration of full cooperation on all agreements from early 1992 till 1994, when the bombing occurred. Argentina's Iranian nuke connection, Gareth Porter, Nov 15, 2006 In addition, many observers see this indictment of Iran as politically charged and spearheaded by the Clinton and Bush administration to further "isolate the regime in Tehran." Many observers also see the charge of Iran on the Interpol list being heavily influenced by the US and Israel to link Iran further with international terrorism.
The thirteenth anniversary of the bombing was commemorated on July 18, 2007. In addition to nationwide exhibitions and ceremonies, radio and television stations and police cars all across Argentina sounded sirens at 9:53 am, the time of the bombing. "AMIA Bombing Commemorated", Dateline World Jewry, World Jewish Congress, September, 2007
On July 18, 1994, a Renault Trafic van bomb loaded with about 275 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil explosive mixture, was detonated in front of the Jewish Community Center located in a densely constructed area of Buenos Aires. The explosive is thought to have been arranged to focus the blast on the building 3 to 5 meters away, exhibiting a shaped charge or explosively formed penetrator effect. The exterior walls of this five story building were of brick masonry construction, which supported the floor slabs. The air blast from the bomb totally destroyed the exposed load-bearing walls which, in turn, led to progressive failure of the floor slabs and virtually total collapse of the building. Such wall-bearing buildings are notable for their tendency to be brought down in this manner by localized damage.
Eighty-five people died, the majority of them were Jewish (although many non-Jewish people were also killed). More than 300 others were wounded. The attack came two years after the 1992 Israeli Embassy Attack in Buenos Aires that killed 29. To date, authorities have been unable to locate those responsible for either bombing.
In the days following the bombing, Israel sent Mossad agents to Argentina to investigate. The Israeli Police also sent a team of four forensic scientists to assist with the building of ante mortem files and victim identification; the IDF sent personnel to help the Argentinians with body extrication. Argentina closed its borders following the blast, fearing more terrorists could enter. It was thought possible that the bombers entered Argentina through the Triple Frontier, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Argentina's intelligence agency, the Secretaria de Inteligencia (SIDE), is said to have set up a network of surveillance called "Centauro" in Paraguay.
The bombing came two years after the March 17, 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires which killed 29 and wounded 242, and was Argentina's deadliest terror attack until the AMIA Bombing. The Islamic Jihad Organization, which has been linked to Iran and possibly Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for that bombing. Some suspect that the AMIA bombing was connected to the embassy attack.Norton, Augustus Richard, Hezbollah: A Short History, Princeton University Press, 2007, p.79
The day after the AMIA attack, a suicide bombing on a Panamanian commuter plane killed all 21 passengers, 12 of which were Jews. Investigators determined that the bombing was perpetrated by a "Lya Jamal" thought to be "an Arab traveling under an alias, using fraudulently obtained Colombian documents." Acquittals in Argentine terror case cast a shadow across Panama, The Panama News, September-November 2004, issue 18
Eight days after the AMIA attack, the Israeli Embassy in London was car-bombed, and thirteen hours later a similar car bomb exploded outside the headquarters of the main Zionist organisations in London. No one was killed but 22 were injured and "millions of pounds of damage" was done. Five Palestinians were later arrested in London and two convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with the bombings. No links between any of these bombings have been proved by investigations, and the motive behind such attacks have not been disclosed.
Investigation and responsibility
No suspects have been convicted of the bombing and there have been many allegations made, including those blaming the government of Iran. These investigations were marred by incompetence; former President Nestor Kirchner called them a "national disgrace" in 2005. In 1999 an arrest warrant was issued against Hezbollah member Imad Mugniyah in connection with the attack.Norton, Augustus Richard, Hezbollah: A Short History, Princeton University Press, 2007, p.79 Argentine justice accused Tehran in 2006 of being behind the attacks, allegedly because of Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear material delivery and technology transfer.
Ibrahim Hussein Berro
Israeli diplomatic sources who read the "final" report by SIDE on the attack said in 2003 that the attack was a suicide bombing carried out by Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a 29-year-old Muslim who has been honored with a plaque in southern Lebanon for his martyrdom on July 18, 1994, the date of the bombing. SIDE and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed this in November 2005.
Berro's two brothers, however, had denied this version in April 2005 before a US prosecutor, stating that Berro had died on September 9, 1994 during combat in Lebanon. No proper autopsies or DNA tests were done. The police dumped in a bin a head, thought to be that of the bomber. Buenos Aires bomber 'identified', BBC News, November 10, 2005
Juan Jose Galeano's investigations
Federal judge Juan Jose Galeano followed investigations concerning the "local connection", which included members of the Policia Bonaerense (Buenos Aires Provincial Police). He quickly arrested Carlos Telleldin, alleged to have provided the van used in the bombing, and some 20 officers from the Bonaerense. But a video broadcast on Argentine TV showed him offering Telleldin $400,000, in return for evidence, which led to Galeano's removal from the case in 2003, and his impeachment in August 2005. Argentine bomb probe judge sacked, BBC News, August 3, 2005 Argentina removes bomb case judge, BBC News, December 3, 2003
Judge Galeano had also issued warrants for the arrests of 12 Iranians, including Hade Soleimanpour, Iran's ambassador to Argentina in 1994. The latter was arrested in the UK on August 21, 2003, at the request of the Argentinian authorities. He was later released because, according to the Home Office, there was not even enough evidence presented to make a prima facie case for the extradition to proceed. Flashback: Argentina Bomb, BBC News, August 25, 2003
Judge Galeano also interviewed Abolghasem Mesbahi, aka "Witness C", an alleged former Iranian intelligence officer who reportedly said a former Argentine president accepted a $10 million payment from Tehran to block the investigation. Former President Carlos Menem denied the claims, but admitted he had a secret Swiss bank account following a report in the New York Times. Menem claimed in 2004 that the attack had been related to his support to the US during the First Gulf War and to his visit to Israel during his mandate. Abolghasem Mesbahi claimed to the Argentine court that Iran had planned the bombing, thinking the centre was a base for the Israeli secret service. Iran blamed for Argentina bomb, BBC News, November 6, 2003
On September 2, 2004, all suspects in the "local connection" (among whom members of the Buenos Aires police) of AMIA case were found to be not guilty. Five persons, including four policemen, were therefore acquitted because of lack of evidence.
On August 3, 2005, Judge Galeano's impeachment was successful, and he was formally removed from his post as a federal judge for "serious" irregularities and his mishandling of the investigation. Argentine newspaper Clarin reports that charges will be pressed against him shortly. Judge Galeano has denied these allegations.
In March 2005, Swiss judge Jacques Antenen, in charge of investigations concerning the murder of an Iranian dissident, re-opened the case concerning Iranian intelligence service bank accounts in Switzerland. The same account would have been used both for this assassination and for the alleged payment of ex-President Carlos Menem. Swiss Justice had already been notified of the existence of an account owned by the Red Spark Foundation (based in Liechtenstein), in which Ramon Hernandez, former secretary of Carlos Menem, had authority to sign documents. Six millions dollars would have been deposited in this account, although in some moment the exact amount was said to be of $10 millions. Reabren investigacion sobre Carlos Menem, Nueva Sion, March 23, 2005, news-article published on-line by Memoria Activa memorial site
In 2006, the Court of Cassation declared that the previous court had made a false version of the investigated acts in order to cover responsibilities.
Investigations under Nestor Kirchner's government
Nestor Kirchner's government issued a decree in July 2005 formally accepting a share of the blame for the failure of investigations into the attack. He called the unresolved investigations a "national disgrace.". President Kirchner said governments had covered up facts, and that the decree established a mechanism for victims to receive compensation. Shortly after assuming his functions in spring 2003, he opened up Argentine intelligence files on the case, and lifted a decree preventing SIDE agents from testifying in the case.
Argentina's justice, Israel, and the United States suspected in 2005 that Hezbollah was behind the attack, with backing from Iran. Hezbollah has denied responsibility. The Iranian government maintains its innocence, condemning the terrorist attack and calling for urgent punishment of those responsible.
On October 25, 2006, prosecutors in Buenos Aires formally charged Iran and Shi'a militia Hezbollah with the bombing, accusing the Iranian authorities of directing Hezbollah to carry out the attack and calling for the arrest of former President of Iran Ayatollah Rafsanjani and seven others, including some who still hold official positions in Iran.
Speaking on state radio, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hoseyni described the accusations against the country as "a Zionist plot." Both Hezbollah and Iran deny any involvement in the bombing. Iran denies Argentina bomb charge, BBC News, 26 October 2006. According to Hoseyni, the accusations were intended to divert "world attention from the perpetration of crimes by the Zionists against women and children in Palestine".
On March 6, 2007, former Congressman Mario Cafiero and former government official Luis D'Elia provided evidence at a press conference that Abolghasem Mesbahi, along with two other Iranians that gave alleged evidence implicating Iran in the bombing, were members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US. They also said that there were arrest warrants issued by Interpol for the other two Iranians, Hadi Roshanravani and Hamid Reza Eshagi.
In November 2008, Carlos Menem was called to testify in an upcoming trial over the AMIA case.
In March 2009, a former investigator in the case, Claudio Lifschitz, claimed he was abducted and tortured by men who told him not to investigate SIDE's involvement in the case.
In August 2009, BBC News reported that Iran's defense minister-designate under the 2009 Mahmoud Ahmedinejad administration, Ahmad Vahidi, is on Interpol's wanted list over the 1994 AMIA bombing. Interpol had issued a red notice for Vahidi since November 2007. Vahidi led a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard called Quds Force at the time of the attack, and has been accused of planning the bombings. Iran dismissed this development as a "Zionist plot".
Ten years after the terrorist attack, a group of 10 Argentine directors, each financed by a different production company, filmed a collection of 10 shorts in tribute to the victims of the attack. The shorts were collected in the film 18-j, dubbed thus in reference to the date of the attack. The directors were Daniel Burman, Israel Adrian Caetano, Lucia Cedron, Alejandro Doria, Alberto Lecchi, Sergio Renan, Marcelo Schapces, Carlos Sorin, Juan Bautista Stagnaro, Adrian Suar and Mauricio Wainrot; a small introduction was narrated by actress Norma Aleandro. Each short showed a different scene in the lives of those who witnessed the attack first-hand. The film premiered August 19, 2004.
Israeli Embassy Attack in Buenos Aires
History of the Jews in Argentina
Bush's Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up 18 January 2008; The Nation
Amia Case - Assessment of Argentine explosions, developments on AMIA dossier Iran's view from IRNA
BBC: Pressure on Iran over Argentina blasts
Video by Argentinian journalist Jorge Lanata
Sentence of the local connection trial
Galeano ousted from post; 3 August 2005 (in Spanish)
"Argentina: Absolvieron a todos los imputados del atentado a la AMIA"; 2 September 2004
"Argentines criticize investigation of '94 attack" 19 July 2004; New York Times
"Argentine bomb police 'to testify'"; 17 September 2003; BBC News
"Flashback: Argentina bomb"; 25 August 2003; BBC News
"Iran denies Argentina blast role"; 9 March 2003; BBC News
The Bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina
Pictures from the tenth anniversary commemoration
Memoria Activa, memorial site, (including official documents)
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