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Explainer: Iran's Alleged Part In 1994 Bombing Of Buenos Aires Jewish Center

An Argentinian policeman prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed the seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina in Buenos Aires in July 1994.
A top Argentinian prosecutor has said new evidence strengthens the case against high-ranking Iranian officials accused of involvement in the decades-old bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed and around 300 more wounded.

Alberto Nisman, who presented a 500-page indictment to a federal judge in Buenos Aires on May 29, said intelligence reports from South America, Europe, and the United States underscore the role Iranian officials and diplomats had in sponsoring the 1994 attack on the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) center.

Argentinian courts in 2006 charged eight current and former senior Iranian officials, along with a Lebanese national, with involvement in the attack. The Argentinian government has secured from Interpol international arrest warrants against the eight men. Tehran, which has vehemently denied the allegations, has refused to extradite the suspects to face trial in Argentina.

Nisman, who has led the investigation into the community center bombing since 2005, has accused Hizballah, the Lebanese Shi'ite militant group with close ties to Tehran, of carrying out the attack and top Iranian officials of planning and financing it.

In his indictment, Nisman singled out Mohesen Rabbani, a former Iranian cultural attache in Argentina. The prosecutor said Rabbani was the mastermind behind the bombing and the "coordinator of the Iranian infiltration of South America."

The prosecutor said the attack on the AMIA center, which was destroyed on July 18, 1994, when a suicide bomber drove a van full of explosives into the seven-story building, was not an isolated incident.

He said it was "part of a much larger plot in which the role of Rabbani was not limited to Argentina but extended as far as Guyana, as well as being responsible for coordinating these activities across all of South America."

Nisman said U.S. court documents revealed that Islamist militant Abdul Kadir, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for his involvement in a foiled plan to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, was Rabbani's disciple.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: The men for whom Argentina issued international arrest warrants in connection with the deadly 1984 bombing of the AMIA building.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: The men for whom Argentina issued international arrest warrants in connection with the deadly 1984 bombing of the AMIA building.

The prosecutor wrote in the indictment that Kadir had received "instructions" from Rabbani and "carried out infiltration in Guyana, whose structure was nearly that established by Rabbani in Argentina."

Apart from Rabbani, seven other Iranian officials have outstanding arrest warrants against them over the case.

They include two men who are currently candidates in Iran's June 14 presidential election: former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Mohsen Rezaei.

Others with Interpol warrants out on them are former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (who applied but was rejected to run in the 2013 presidential race); Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi; former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian; former ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour; and the Iranian Embassy's former third-ranking diplomat, Ahmad Reza Ashgari.

No high-profile suspect has ever been arrested over the attack. The investigation into the bombing has been marred by rumors of cover-ups and accusations of incompetence. Argentina's president at the time, Nestor Kirchner, called the investigation a "national disgrace."

The initial probe was thrown out in 2005 on accusations of corruption by Argentinian authorities, some of whom were later charged for misconduct. Minor figures, such as a policeman who sold the van used in the attack, have been named and charged.

In 2005, Argentinian authorities said a member of Lebanese Hizballah was behind the bombing and had been identified in a joint operation by Argentinian intelligence and the FBI. But the militant group later said the man, Ibrahim Huseein Berro, had died in southern Lebanon while fighting Israeli forces.

Despite the setbacks, the Argentinian government has said it is determined to secure justice. In February, Argentina approved a memorandum of understanding with Iran on forming a "truth commission" to shed light on the bombing after years of legal deadlock. In May, an Iranian diplomat said the Iranian government had followed suit and approved the agreement.

The agreement, which has yet to go into effect, stipulates that the two countries create a five-member commission of international law experts. None can be of Argentinian or Iranian nationality.

But the agreement has come under strong criticism from Argentina's opposition and 200,000-strong Jewish community, among the largest in South America.

Opponents fear the agreement, which was seen as a diplomatic victory for Iran, could undermine the ongoing judicial investigation led by Nisman.

Apart from the AMIA center attack, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, also remains unsolved.

Nisman has urged Interpol to intensify its efforts to execute the arrest warrants against the eight Iranian officials.

In his indictment, Nisman also accused Iran of "infiltrating" South America and setting up intelligence networks to carry out terrorist attacks on the continent. He said Iran has sought to "install secret intelligence stations with the goal of committing, fomenting, and fostering acts of international terrorism."

"I legally accuse Iran of infiltrating several South American countries to install intelligence stations -- in other words espionage bases -- destined to commit, encourage, and sponsor terror attacks like the one that took place against AMIA," Nisman told reporters on May 29.

Nisman's indictment will now go to the judge overseeing the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral. Nisman said he would also send a copy to legal authorities in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

In those countries, he said, "there are strong indications that said infiltration and installation of intelligence stations have taken place."
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.