A leading Argentinian politician hopes to advance legislation that could pave the way for his country’s judicial system to try and convict those responsible for the July 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building that killed 85 and wounded hundreds.
Remembering the 1994 AMIA terror bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Although Argentina has a list of Iranians it believes were behind the bombing, none has been prosecuted.
“The Argentinian Jewish community has waited for [almost] 25 years for justice to be served and we want to make sure that this happens,” Sergio Massa told The Jerusalem Post
during a visit to Israel last week, his first to the country.
The laws governing Argentina’s judicial system make it difficult to prosecute he people behind the attack, he said, because the accused must be present at the trial and there is currently no way to extradite the suspects.
The legislation he authored and is advancing would allow a trial to be held, even if the accused are not present. He initially presented it in 2014, Massa said, but the “former government was close to Iran, so the law, didn’t pass.” Given the sympathies of the current government, he said, there is no reason for it to be rejected.
The tall, animated politician is a member of the Argentinian National Congress, the head of the Renewal Front Party and the former mayor of the city of Tigre. His agenda was largely domestic, meeting with Israeli companies that deal with security and hi-tech and looking for a way to adapt Israel’s expertise in fighting terrorism so he can create a better policy to halt violent crime in Argentina.
“We have a lot to learn here in Israel,” said Massa. “Israel combats terrorism and we combat crime, but the logic is the same.”
He said he would like to see the relationship between Israel and Argentina grow stronger, particularly with respect to bilateral trade in agriculture, biotechnology and security.
When it comes to terrorism, particularly from extremist Islamist groups, Argentina’s focus is on a tri-border area known as the triple frontier, which it shares with Brazil and Paraguay.
There have been few terrorist attacks in the Latin American country, the largest and most significant of which are believed to be linked to Iran, occurring in the 1990s targeting Israel and the country’s Jewish community.
In March 1992, 29 civilians were killed in a suicide bombing attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. The second was the AMIA bombing.
Prosecution has been difficult, in part because of the pro-Iranian leanings of the past government, led by Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner, who left office in December 2015.
In January 2015, the prosecutor in charge of the AMIA investigation, Alberto Nisman, was killed after he filed a 300-page complaint alleging that Kirchner and others in the government tried to cover up the Iranian connection.
The new president, Mauricio Macri, has distanced the country from Iran, dissolving a Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments that had been set in place by Kirchner.
Macri’s government also has been more positive toward Israel. Massa, though in the opposition, explained that he stands strongly against Iran and with Israel, saying Argentina has the sixth-largest Jewish community in the world, which plays an important role in the country.
But his focus on the AMIA bombing and Iranian-backed terrorism, he said, is larger than his feelings about Israel or the Argentinian Jewish community.
“This was a crime against humanity. This was not a crime against Argentina or the Jewish community, but a crime against humanity, as all terrorism is. We need to make sure that if there was a crime, there has to be a criminal,” he said.
Massa discussed the legislation in his meetings with Foreign Ministry officials and Knesset members, including from the Likud, Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union.
Summing up his trip, Massa said he was impressed by both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv, he said he was struck by the high level of personal safety, noting that he and his wife were able to go on a midnight bicycle ride without fearing an attack, while with respect to Jerusalem, he noted the coexistence of all three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It seemed, he said, as if “they were walking together to God.”