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Argentina alleges Iran ordered attack

by Patrick J. McDon­nell

BUENOS AIRES — Argen­tine pros­e­cu­tors accused Tehran on Wednes­day of mas­ter­mind­ing the dead­ly bomb­ing of a Jew­ish cul­tur­al cen­ter here 12 years ago and were seek­ing the arrest of for­mer Iran­ian Pres­i­dent Hashe­mi Raf­san­jani and oth­er for­mer offi­cials of the Islam­ic Repub­lic.

Argen­tine author­i­ties have long con­tend­ed that Iran was involved in the attack, which killed 85 and injured more than 200, but this was the strongest alle­ga­tion to date link­ing Iran to the bomb­ing.

The deci­sion to strike the Jew­ish facil­i­ty was made “by the high­est author­i­ties of the then-gov­ern­ment of Iran,” fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor Alber­to Nis­man said at a news con­fer­ence here.

Two years ago, 22 defen­dants — includ­ing four Buenos Aires police offi­cers — were acquit­ted of charges of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bomb­ing plot.

Iran­ian offi­cials arranged with Hezbol­lah, the Shi­ite mil­i­tant group in Lebanon with close ties to Tehran, to orga­nize and exe­cute the bomb­ing, the pros­e­cu­tor said Wednes­day.

Nis­man said the plot was hatched in August 1993, almost a year before the attack.

There was no imme­di­ate reac­tion either from Iran or Hezbol­lah. Both have pre­vi­ous­ly denied involve­ment.

A U.S. Embassy spokesper­son in Buenos Aires con­grat­u­lat­ed Argen­tine author­i­ties for their find­ings in the “most lethal anti-Semit­ic attack since World War II.”

The 800-page inves­tiga­tive report, the U.S. spokesper­son said, pro­vid­ed “con­vinc­ing evi­dence” that the attack “was planned and financed by the gov­ern­ment of Iran and car­ried out with the oper­a­tional assis­tance of Hezbol­lah and Iran­ian diplo­mats based in Argenti­na.”

The Argen­tine pros­e­cu­tor is ask­ing a fed­er­al judge here to seek inter­na­tion­al arrest war­rants for Raf­san­jani, who served as Iran’s pres­i­dent from 1989 to 1997.

Nis­man is also seek­ing arrest war­rants for six oth­er for­mer Iran­ian offi­cials, includ­ing the for­mer for­eign min­is­ter and intel­li­gence chief, two for­mer com­man­ders of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard and two for­mer diplo­mats at the Iran­ian Embassy in Buenos Aires.

The pros­e­cu­tors also asked the judge for an arrest war­rant for Imad Fayez Mough­nieh, iden­ti­fied as Hezbol­lah’s for­mer chief of inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty.

Wednes­day’s alle­ga­tions stem from a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tion unit inves­ti­gat­ing the bomb­ing, which remains unsolved despite years of inquiry and con­tro­ver­sy.

Last year, pros­e­cu­tors said a Lebanese man, Ibrahim Hus­sein Berro, had been iden­ti­fied as the sui­cide dri­ver of the van that explod­ed out­side the Jew­ish facil­i­ty.

Why Iran would tar­get the facil­i­ty remains a mat­ter of intense spec­u­la­tion. Pros­e­cu­tors here linked the strike to Argenti­na’s pre­vi­ous deci­sion to can­cel agree­ments to pro­vide Iran with nuclear tech­nol­o­gy.

The dead­ly strike came more than two years after a March 1992 blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy here, killing 29. That case also remains unsolved.

Alle­ga­tions of incom­pe­tence, foot-drag­ging and cor­rup­tion have long marred the inves­ti­ga­tion of the bomb­ing at the cul­tur­al cen­ter.

A for­mer judge inves­ti­gat­ing a so-called local con­nec­tion was removed from the case and lat­er stripped of his judge­ship.

The bomb­ing is con­sid­ered the worst ter­ror­ist attack in Argenti­na.

Author­i­ties say an explo­sives-laden van was det­o­nat­ed out­side the Argen­tine Israelite Mutu­al Assn. near down­town Buenos Aires. The July 18, 1994, blast flat­tened the sev­en-sto­ry sym­bol of Argenti­na’s 200,000-plus Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, the largest in Latin Amer­i­ca.

Jew­ish lead­ers reg­u­lar­ly com­mem­o­rate the attacks and call on author­i­ties to solve the cas­es. On the anniver­sary of the cul­tur­al cen­ter bomb­ing this year, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty called on Argenti­na to break diplo­mat­ic rela­tions with Iran.


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