Five months after a bomb ripped through the heart of the Jewish community here, Argentine officials still have few clues about who was responsible for the attack.
“The investigation has not reached any concrete results, I am ashamed to say,” Foreign Minister Guido di Tella said last week.
The revelation came during a three-day seminar on international terrorism, which was sponsored by the target of the July 18 attack, the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, known as AMIA.
Argentine officials, intelligence officers from Israel, the United States and Germany and terrorism experts some 500 of the community at AMIA’s new offices in the garment district of Once, home to many of the country’s Chasidic Jews.
AMIA’s former office building, some five blocks away, was razed the morning of July 18 when a bomb exploded through its half-dozen floors as the 100-year-old social service agency opened its doors to the public.
Some 99 individuals were killed in the bombing, and more than 200 were wounded.
Members of the community who attended the conference learned that the Argentine government has made little progress in its investigations into the July attack and the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy here that killed 30 and injured 250 others.
There are no suspects in the 1992 attack, and only one suspect is currently in jail for this year’s terrorist massacre. He is an Argentine citizen of Arab ancestry who allegedly sold the bomb-laden van that was used in the July attack.
“We want to create an awareness in society, so it takes the necessary means to stop a third attack,” AMIA spokesman Ariel Sujarchuk said, explaining the reason for the conference. “And we want answers.”
While there were few answers regarding the two bombing incidents the standing- room only audience learned about steps being taken to prevent future attacks and about the roots of fundamentalist terrorism.
In addition to di Tella, Argentine officials who addressed the conference included Hugo Anzorreguy, the director of SIDE, Argentina’s equivalent of the FBI, and Interior Minister Carlos Ruckauf, a late replacement for Argentine President Carlos Menem, who was supposed to have addressed the conference.
Menem has been criticized by the Jewish community in the past for not making more progress in the investigations of the two bombings.
Di Tella said that Argentine security agents have increased information-sharing with the intelligence agencies of other countries, particularly Brazil, to prevent further attacks.
He said that government security officials are focusing on the so-called “triangle” where Argentina’s northeastern border meets Brazil and Paraguay – a region where militant Shi’ite Muslim fundamentalists are rumored to have established a base.
Anzorreguy admitted that a lack of funding and resources have hindered the bombing investigations.
But he and Ruckauf said the Menem administration is seeking to implement measures that will speed the investigation and facilitate efforts to monitor potential terrorists.
Among those measures is the creation of a witness – protection program and a plan to allow judges such as Juan Jose Galeano, who is spearheading the inquiry into the July 18 attack, to focus most of their time on investigations into terrorist activities.
Both di Tella and AMIA President Alberto Crupnicoff agreed that Argentina must not let other concerns affect its pursuit of justice.
“We should not be bound by trade or other ties,” said Crupnicoff, apparently referring to Argentina’s relations with Arab countries.
He also said that in the five months since the attack, AMIA has restored virtually all the community services it provided beforehand.
Despite the government’s lack of success in its investigations into the bombings, members of the community attending the conference were pleased that the meetings were held.
“People wanted to do something,” said one middle-aged woman who declined to give her name. “The concept of gathering people together” in itself was a show of strength to terrorists, she said.
Luis Jait, another attendee who said she was active in several Jewish organizations, said she was satisfied because the seminars provided a “greater clarification of the investigation and strategies used throughout the world” to combat terrorism.