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Argentina: 10 Years of Trauma Investigation of Bombing Produces Reams of Documents, but No Answers

The investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing has accumulated 120,000 pages of records and spawned more than 20 judicial cases on charges ranging from concealment, robbery, giving false testimony and failure to carry out public duty. So far, however, no one has been found responsible for the terrorist attack against the Jewish community’s central facility — much to the community’s dismay.

Carolina Fernandez Blanco, a lawyer representing AMIA, noted some milestones in the investigation:

On July 18, 1994, the day the bombing killed 85 people and wounded 300, parts of a van were discovered containing traces of explosives.

On July 25, 1994, part of the van’s motor was found. That piece guided the investigation toward a suspect named Carlos Telleldin, a mechanic and known car thief.

On July 27, 1994, Telleldin was captured. That same day, investigative judge Juan Jose Galeano began to suspect that Iran was connecte! d to the bombing. Years later, in 2003, officials said they believed they could confirm that Iran masterminded the attack together with Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group.

In 1995, the investigation compiled information that allegedly links local police officers to Telleldin and the attack.

On Sept. 24, 2001, the trial of Telleldin, four police officers and 15 others opened.

In July 2002, The New York Times reported that the Argentine president at the time of the attack, Carlos Menem, was paid a $10 million bribe by Iran to cover up the Islamic Republic’s role in the attack. Menem denied the charges.

In March 2003, Argentina demanded the extradition of former Iranian officials, including Iran’s former ambassador in Buenos Aires, Hadi Soleimanpour. Soleimanpour was arrested in Britain but later was released. For years, investigators have suspected that Iran’s former cultural attache, Moshen Rabbani, had strong links to the attack.

In Dece! mber 2003, Galeano was dismissed for allegedly bribing Telleldin to te stify against the police officers.

In January 2004, prosecutors presented their closing arguments.

For Argentine Jews, who have watched each development closely and turned out to each courthouse appearance, the sense of anger and dismay dates back to even before the attack.

“There is almost a certainty that the national government was aware an attack was going to happen,” said Fernandez Blanco, the AMIA attorney.

Before the attack, the Argentine office in Milan received information that Hezbollah could attack in Argentina.

The information was submitted to the Foreign Office and from there to the national intelligence services — but neither of them reacted.

Fernandez Blanco said many of those involved in the investigation showed “disorganization, negligence and concealment.”

At the beginning of the case, for example, the federal police’s Department of Protection presumably lost 60 tape recordings of telephone conversations at Telleldin’s house after! the attack, she said.

Last July, La Nacion newspaper published an investigation blasting the performance of Galeano and the intelligence services.

“There are suspicions of having diverted the investigation because it could get close to former President Carlos Menem’s environment,” La Nacion said.

What Fernandez Blanco calls “the big horror of the case” took place in July 1996, when Galeano was accused of paying $400,000 to Telleldin to testify against police officers who were already linked to the case.

During the trial, the intelligence services confirmed the bribe, and Galeano was taken off the case in December 2003. A few months later, two prosecutors were also taken off the case because they had apparently known of the payment to Telleldin.

Fernandez Blanco’s criticisms are shared by many Argentines.

A parliamentary commission created to investigate the AMIA bombing as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29! people and injured hundreds, frequently has been critical of the auth orities’ efforts on the cases.

Gabriel Levinas, an investigative reporter, goes further.

Levinas’ father helped found AMIA and is a member of its ethics committee. Levinas wrote a book on the bombing called “Below the Rubble,” and a report on the attack that was published by the U.S. Congress.

“Ten years of investigation led nowhere,” he told JTA. “Either the attack was very well done, or the investigation was very badly done. Was it on purpose or because of inefficiency?”

He cites several instances in which a person involved with the investigation then goes on to face charges himself.

Levinas described the relation between the plaintiffs, the justice system and the accused as “promiscuous.”

Meanwhile, the oral trial of Telleldin and the four police officers is slated to end in a few weeks — and the Jewish world is waiting.

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