Around the Jewish World with Bombing Trial Focusing on Van, Results of Testing Should Be Crucial

Testimony in the trial of 20 people accused of helping to bomb Buenos Aires’ main Jewish community center is focusing on the van that carried the explosives.

Police have done chemical testing on 20 parts of the vehicle, including the engine, that were found in the rubble of the AMIA community center. Expert analysis of the results will be given by the end of November.

The 20 on trial are accused of playing a local role in the attack.

Sources close to prosecutors and plaintiffs say the tests show the van exploded and — even seven years later — still bears residue of explosive chemicals.

So far, the car used in the bombing has been the main focus of the trial.

Carlos Alberto Telleldin, used-car dealer, is accused of supplying the van. Juan Jose Ribelli and three other former police officers are accused of helping to load the van with some 600 pounds of explosives.

The other 15 on trial are accused of various offenses.

“The nexus for these five main defendants to the attack is the presence of the van. If there was no bombing car, they could be charged for extortion and smaller crimes, but they could walk out of court,” prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman told JTA.

So far, 70 witnesses who were close to the AMIA building at the time of the explosion have testified. Very few recalled seeing a van in the vicinity.

Lawyers for the accused hope to stress the testimony of people on the block at the time who say they did not see a van turn the corner of Tucuman Street and head toward AMIA.

Prosecutors and lawyers for victims’ families, AMIA and DAIA — a Jewish umbrella organization located in the same building — remarked on the differences in the recollections of people who were near AMIA on the morning of July 18, 1994, but did not know they were about to witness a terrorist attack. The bombing killed 85 people and wounded 300.

The area where AMIA was located is known as Once, an area of town crowded with small shops. A van loading and unloading merchandise on a Monday morning in Once hardly would attract attention.

Every witness has been asked how he or she remembers the traffic on the block that morning.

Answers have ranged from “crowded as usual” to “unusually empty,” from “full of vehicles” to “without any car driving or parked.”

Prosecutor Nisman said the 105 people called as witnesses still carry their personal traumas from the event, yet must face defendants and cameras.

The results of the tests on the vehicle parts will be “crucial to the trial,” Nisman said.

After this group of witnesses, subsequent witnesses will include members of the Argentine intelligence services, employees of a nearby lot where the van was parked and expert witnesses.

The investigative judge, Juan Jose Galeano, also is searching for information on international connections to the attack: How the decision to carry out the bombing was made, for what reasons and who was involved.

The Mossad, CIA and FBI have contributed information and technical expertise that incriminates Iran and Hezbollah in the bombing. A recent tip has led some to believe that Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida terror organization was involved.

Juan Antonio Pardo, who served as ceremonial deputy director for the Argentine chancery, testified to Galeano on Nov. 14.

Pardo said Iranian diplomatic trips increased in the days before the attack, and that Argentine intelligence was aware of the trips.

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