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Al Qaida linked to attack on Argentine Jewish site

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BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 23 (JTA) — A possible link has emerged between suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida network and a terror bombing against a Jewish site here.

Argentine diplomat Juan Jose Etchegoyen, a former business attache in Saudi Arabia who is now posted to Geneva, told a local radio station last Friday that Argentina’s embassy in Saudi Arabia received repeated telephone warnings from Al Qaida about an imminent attack against a U.S. target.

According to Etchegoyen, the warnings were issued on Sept. 23, 2000 — shortly before 17 American sailors were killed when suicide bombers blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole while it was refueling in Aden, Yemen.

The group also claimed responsibility for an unspecified “explosion” in Argentina, Etchegoyen said.

It was unclear whether the caller was referring to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people, or perhaps the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in the Argentine capital that killed 85 people.

In Washington, officials said the United States does not believe Al Qaida was responsible for either attack.

Just the same, Argentine officials are now questioning why Juan Jose Galeano, the investigative judge in the AMIA case, never received the information Etchegoyen provided.

Galeano, who is serving as prosecutor in an ongoing trial of 20 people accused of playing a role in the 1994 AMIA bombing, traveled to Washington over the weekend to meet with terrorism experts and FBI members.

He is expected to return to Buenos Aires in the coming days after traveling to Paris to collect information related to the trial.

Jewish groups in Argentina and around the world frequently have criticized Galeano’s investigation for failing to follow important leads in the AMIA case.

More than seven years after the attack, Argentine officials have not yet found those responsible for the AMIA bombing.

The trial of the 20 is now in its fourth week. About 100 people who either heard or saw the bombing are expected to testify in coming days.

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