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Last Stage of Trial Starts for Locals Accused of Aiding 1994 Amia Attack

January 21, 2004
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Nearly 10 years after a devastating bombing at this community’s central Jewish institution, the prosecution is presenting its closing statements in the AMIA bombing trial.

As this crucial stage of the trial got under way Monday, demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse to demand justice in the case.

Inside, three main groups — representatives of AMIA; the DAIA political umbrella group for Argentine Jews, and Familiares de las Victimas, a group representing relatives of 40 victims of the bombing — demanded life sentences in prison for the five accomplices being tried for the 1994 attack: car mechanic Carlos Telleldin and four former police officers.

The July 18, 1994, bombing at the AMIA center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and wounded 300.

“The end of impunity is starting now,” said Abraham Kaul, AMIA’s president.

The trial, which has gone on for 28 months, dealt primarily with the local connection to the attack. The international connection to the attack is still under investigation.

Jewish officials long have maintained that Iran was behind the bombing and that then-Argentine President Carlos Menem was paid a multimillion-dollar bribe to cover it up.

Last week, a group called Memoria Activa, which represents four victims’ relatives, presented an argument that accused Telleldin but not the former police officers. Memoria Activa charged that the investigation contained serious mistakes and dismissed the participation of the former police officers.

But Carolina Fernandez Blanco, one of the AMIA lawyers, told JTA that AMIA, DAIA and Familiares de las Victimas were “absolutely convinced of the four police officers’ and the car mechanic’s involvement in the attack.”

“We believe the state has to be investigated” for impeding the judicial process, Fernandez Blanco said. “But here, we are judging people. We will accuse the state at the proper place after we end this process.”

AMIA and DAIA officials opted not to talk to members of the media, instead giving victims’ relatives a chance at the microphones.

“We won’t make a political issue of this,” one official said by way of explanation.

Olga Degtiar, the mother of Cristian Degtiar, who was killed at the attack at the age of 21, stood at a low stage and thanked demonstrators outside the courthouse for their support on a sunny, hot and humid afternoon.

She spoke against the backdrop of a huge display with photos of the victims and a large banner reading, “Until justice arrives, we will not stop.”

“Although it is a summer holiday in Buenos Aires, the Jewish community wanted to show society what is going on,” incoming DAIA president Gilbert Lewi said in an interview.

“One goal,” said one Jewish leader, “is to press the court, to let them know that society is expectant about their verdict. And as always in this process, the press has supported us.”

News of the trial was on the front pages of newspapers and on nearly every radio and TV news program in the country this week.

Some victims’ relatives said they were anxious about the trial’s closing stage.

“I feel as if I were going to take an exam after studying for nine and a half years,” Luis Czyzewski told JTA. His child, Paola, a law student, was killed in the bombing.

Because it has been so long since the bombing, many of the people at these media events have become familiar to one another by now.

Hugs were exchanged and hands were squeezed among the crowd. After Degtiar’s short speech and the blowing of the shofar, an AMIA employee who survived the attack shared a moment with a journalist covering the event as they looked at photos of the journalist’s newborn baby.

For a moment, the business of justice took a back seat to the business of family.

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