Buenos Aires attack indictments planned

Rescuers sift through the rubble in the aftermath of the July 1994 AMIA Jewish cultural center bombing in Buenos Aires. (DYN/Archivo)

Rescuers sift through the rubble in the aftermath of the July 1994 AMIA Jewish cultural center bombing in Buenos Aires. (DYN/Archivo)

BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 8 (JTA) — Argentine judicial officials say they are planning to issue indictments against members of Hezbollah for carrying out a deadly car bombing of the Jewish community center here in 1994. Armed with information provided by the Argentine intelligence service Secretaria de Inteligencia del Estado the officials have announced that they have crucial evidence linking Hezbollah’s leadership to the attack. According to Marta Nercellas, lawyer for the Jewish umbrella organization DAIA, the evidence provided by the intelligence service agrees with the judiciary reconstruction of the attack and other information provided by international intelligence services. Prosecutors also have announced that they now have crucial details about the attack, including the identity of the suicide bomber who drove a van carrying some 600 pounds of explosives and destroyed the AMIA community center on July 18, 1994. The bombing killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. Last month, there were reports in the local media that the driver was a Lebanese member of Hezbollah. The CIA, working with the intelligence service in the case, reportedly confirmed the driver’s identity. After the AMIA attack, a park in Lebanon was named in honor of the driver, according to judicial officials here. Argentine officials also maintain that Iranian diplomats traveling in and out of Argentina before the attack served as a support team for the terrorist squad that carried out the bombing. According to legal observers, Argentine officials may seek international arrest warrants for members of the hit squad, the diplomats, former Iranian intelligence minister Ali Fallahian and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Warrants are unlikely to be issued against top Iranian leaders who allegedly ordered the attack because of diplomatic concerns and because of a possible lack of evidence, the observers said. The documents issued by the Argentine judiciary also will indicate that the terrorist squad included Lebanese who had trained in the Middle East and entered Argentina illegally through the lawless border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. More than eight years after the AMIA attack, none of those who masterminded the deadly bombing have been brought to trial. Last year, a trial began against 20 people accused of playing a supporting role in the attack. Jewish leaders here and abroad have blamed Argentina’s inability to find the culprits on incompetence, corruption and anti-Semitism among security and government officials. The investigative judge handling the case, Juan Jose Galeano, had asked in 1994 for indictments to be handed down against a group of Iranian suspects. The Argentine Supreme Court denied his demand at that time, saying he lacked sufficient evidence. Since then, Galeano has been trying to gather enough evidence to secure international arrest warrants. Galeano, who just returned from a three-week trip to the United States, has now gotten what he needs, according to Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in the trial of the 20 accomplices. “The elements are already in place to ask for some Hezbollah members’ arrest,” Nisman said. Word about the new round of indictments was met with some skepticism by some Jewish officials here. The Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Sergio Widder, told JTA the latest announcements from the judiciary are “an immoral use of the AMIA attack more than serious investigations.” Widder noted that the announcements came just months after former Argentine President Carlos Menem was accused of getting a $10 million bribe to cover up Iran’s responsibility for the 1994 bombing — an allegation Menem denied. The announcements, Widder added, may have more to do with politics than with any real breakthrough in the case.

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