Amia Trial Begins Amid Echoes of Terror Attacks Against U.S. Sites

A trial that began here this week

for 20 people accused of playing a role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center has taken on additional significance following the terror attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“Terrorism is a worldwide threat to democracy and tolerance,” Jacob Kovadloff, a representative of the American Jewish Committee, told JTA before entering the courtroom Monday.

“At this time, there is a great deal of concern around the world how Argentina will deal with this issue.”

Security was the byword as the trial began.

Police vans drove with sirens blasting toward the court. Police dogs walked the court corridors. An ambulance was parked at the front door.

Doctors dressed in green could be seen with stethoscopes around their necks. Three metal detector machines guarded the entrance to the courtroom. Every bag was checked at least two times.

The basement in the court building in downtown Buenos Aires had a courtroom specially built for this trial — and it was packed Monday.

In attendance were three federal judges, four prosecutors, the 20 defendants, dozens of lawyers, victims’ relatives, politicians and reporters.

Before the trial began, Alberto Zuppi, lawyer for Memoria Activa, a group of victims’ relatives, asked for a minute of silence for those killed in four terror attacks — the two earlier this month in the United States; the July 1994 AMIA blast; and an earlier attack, in March 1992, on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

The AMIA attack claimed the lives of 86 people and wounded some 300 others. In the car bombing of the Israeli Embassy, 29 people were killed and more than 200 injured.

After the judges accepted Zuppi’s request, everyone in the courtroom rose for the minute of silence before the trial began.

The 20 defendants have not been charged with involvement in the actual attack, only with supplying the stolen van used in the bombing.

Argentine officials hope the trial may shed light on those who masterminded the attack.

Jewish leaders here and abroad have long blamed Argentina’s inability to find the culprits on incompetence, corruption and anti-Semitism among security and government officials.

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