WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (JTA) Six years after a bomb destroyed Argentina’s largest Jewish community building, killing 86 people, Jewish leaders in Buenos Aires and the United States are working to make those responsible are brought to justice.
Argentina is preparing to try five suspects allegedly involved in the attack.
“Jews throughout the world need to understand what is at stake here,” said Alfredo Neuburger, a consultant to DAIA, the political umbrella organization of Argentine Jewry. “This wasn’t just an attack on Jews in Buenos Aires, this was an attack on all Jews.”
Neuburger, the executive director of DAIA at the time of the 1994 AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing, came to the United States last week to begin two weeks of meetings with Jewish groups in Washington, Baltimore and New York to raise awareness of the upcoming trial.
This week, he was also scheduled to meet with members of the U.S. State Department and the House International Relations Committee.
Neuburger said he would urge them to continue U.S. legal assistance to Argentina, which led to the capture of the four ex-Argentine police officers and one civilian who will stand trial in April.
Since the attack, U.S. intelligence has worked closely with Argentina to solve the bombing, which many believe was supported by Iranian terrorist organizations. Progress in the investigations of the AMIA bombing and of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing in Buenos Aires, which killed 29, has been painfully slow, said Neuburger.
The five suspects, who face life imprisonment if found guilty, are being tried as accessories to the crime. Many more people are presumed to have been directly involved in the explosion, though no other arrests have been made, and a definitive tie to Iranian terrorist groups has never been established.
The now eight-year-old inquiry into the roots of the Embassy bombing has also failed to produce suspects.
“It is our hope that as this case is tried, new proof will appear and we will go as deep as we can into finding those responsible,” said Diego Tettamanti, political counselor with the Argentine Embassy in Washington. Jewish leaders say they are hopeful for resolution under the leadership of Argentine President Fernando de la Rua, who took office last year. He met with several Jewish groups in Washington in June, where he apologized for his country’s acceptance of Nazis after World War II and promised to strengthen the AMIA probe.
Jewish leaders are encouraging world Jewry to keep the case in the spotlight.
“With every year that passes, apathy sets in,” said Dina Siegel Vann, Latin American affairs director for B’nai B’rith International. “But if justice is not served now, it is just laying the groundwork for more attacks.”
B’nai B’rith has been granted observer status for the trial, and will have access to all trial proceedings and materials, Siegel Vann said. The group will act as “the voice of world Jewry” at the trial, she said.
Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said it is important for American Jews to continue to show solidarity with the Argentine Jewish community.
“We must continue to communicate to the Argentine government and community there that this is an issue we will not stop raising,” he said.
Numbering about 230,000, Argentina is home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, according to the World Jewish Congress.
Shock over the AMIA bombing deeply affected Jewish life in Buenos Aires, Neuburger said. Though a new building stands today where rubble from the old one fell, most Jewish groups have instituted “a new structure of security,” with guards at every entrance, he said.
Neuburger said he is still shaken by the loss of his 21-year-old secretary and several staff members, who were killed as the building collapsed July 18, 1994. He was out of the office on business that morning, so his own life was spared.
“There has been a tremendous psychological effect,” he said. “But it will be much worse if justice is never found.”