BUENOS AIRES (May. 12)
The Argentine government’s official report on the March 17 bombing of the Israeli Embassy here was unable to identify the perpetrators of the attack.
But the report ruled out a claim by the Islamic Jihad that the attack was a suicide mission carried out on its behalf by an Argentine converted to Islam.
The pro-Iranian fundamentalist group had taken credit for the bombing, which killed 29 people, injured more than 400 and turned the embassy building into rubble.
The government report said the 12 pounds of plastic explosives — made from a material not available in Argentina — were concealed in a pickup truck outside the embassy and were set off either by a simple fuse or an electronic timing device.
The person or persons who parked the truck probably walked away, the report said. It noted that at the time of the blast, about 2:45 p.m., security cameras in the embassy picked up the image of a man quickly walking away from the building.
The report, prepared by the National Guard, was published May 7 and submitted to the Supreme Court, which was in charge of the investigation.
From the start, there have been conflicting reports from different federal agencies handling the case. The Federal Police reported to the Minister of Interior that this was in fact a suicide attack. The police said a car parked in front of the booby-trapped truck diverted the blast, saving many lives.
None of Argentina’s investigative agencies has been able to identify either the members or the name of the group responsible for the attack. Sources close to foreign investigators who have already left Argentina say the perpetrators are probably safely back in the Middle East.
The U.S. State Department has charged that there are strong “indications” that Iran was involved in the bombing, although it does not have conclusive proof of this.
Israeli Deputy Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem that if an Iranian connection is confirmed, Israel will ask the international community to impose sanctions on Iran, similar to the ones imposed by the United Nations last month on Libya for its alleged role in the bombing of a Pan American jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.
The Israeli embassy here, meanwhile, is having difficulties finding a new home. According to the newspaper Clarin, since the bomb tragedy nobody wants to be its neighbor.
Until Jerusalem decides where and when to build a new embassy here, the diplomats plan to rent three floors of a 28-story steel-and-glass office tower in downtown Buenos Aires which also houses the Netherlands Embassy.
But Clarin reported that a number of tenants of the high-rise are threatening to move and the owners of several small shops nearby have complained.
Inhabitants of the posh residential neighborhood where the embassy once stood do not want it back. Most of the bomb fatalities and injuries were suffered by neighbors and passersby. Only nine of the dead — four Israelis and five Argentines — were killed inside the building.
There was also tremendous property damage in the neighborhood. The neighbors have asked that the city leave the site of the former embassy as a plaza in memory of the victims.
The response of an Israeli Embassy spokesman has been to ask “everyone kindly not to be afraid” and “not to give in to the terrorists.”
OPERATING UNDER CRAMPED CONDITIONS
For the time being, the embassy is operating under severely cramped conditions at the Argentine-Israel Cultural Center.
“We’ve received enormous solidarity through thousands of letters and telephone calls,” an embassy official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“It’s only natural that people are afraid after the losses they’ve also suffered,” the official said. He added, however, that “there are always those who would like to finish what the terrorists started — to eliminate the Israeli presence.”
The news magazine Tiempo reported last week that the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, suspects that convicted Syrian drug-trafficker Monzer Al-Kassar, who has been linked to the Pan Am bombing, may have been involved in the attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires.
Local newspapers have picked up that speculation because Al-Kassar was mysteriously granted Argentine citizenship last month, only to have it immediately revoked.
According to press reports, he has close contacts with other Argentine Arabs, including the sister-in-law of President Carlos Menem, who is himself of Syrian ancestry.