argentina attacks 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Jewish civic leaders welcomed what they called a breakthrough by prosecutors in identifying the suicide bomber who destroyed the Jewish community center here in 1994 as a 21-year-old Lebanese terrorist from the Islamic group Hizbullah.
Late Wednesday, prosecutors confirmed that the suicide bomber had been identified as Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a Lebanese citizen, whom they suspect of driving the explosives-packed van that destroyed the Jewish center, killiing 85 people and wounding more than 200. Investigators made the identification after talking to relatives of Hussein Berro in Detroit, Michigan.
Luis Grynwald, the current president of the AMIA Jewish center, which was flattened 11 years ago and later rebuilt on its downtown Buenos Aires, hailed the development as a major advance in the case.
Sergio Burstein, a member of a group of relatives of victims of the bombing, told the newspaper La Nacion in its online edition that the breakthrough is "critically important" in providing authorities with new leads in the case,
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Hussein Berro "belonged to Hezbollah" and drove the van rigged with explosives that leveled the seven-story Argentine Israel Mutual Aid Association on July 18, 1994. The building was a symbol of Argentina's more than 200,000-strong Jewish community.
Argentine investigators had faced domestic and international pressure to make headway in the case. But some critics said that Nisman was breaking little new ground in identifying Hussein Berro, who was named as the suspected bomber, in a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives in July 2004, urging a solution to the case. The House resolution said that Hussein Bero reportedly had been in contact with the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires.
Local news reports said questions about Hussein Berro had been raised as early as 2003, prompted by Israeli intelligence reports.
Iran had no immediate comment on the latest developments.
The Jewish center bombing was the second of two major attacks targeting Jews in Argentina during the 1990s. A March 1992 blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people in a case that had also been blamed on Hezbollah. Hezbollah has denied responsibility for both bombings.
Leaders of Argentina's Jewish community have accused Iran of organizing the AMIA attack. Tehran repeatedly has denied that.
Nisman said Wednesday that suspicions of Iranian involvement in the attack were among several lines of investigation, telling a news conference that he would follow all leads in the ongoing probe.
Investigators believe the attacker entered Argentina in the tri-border region at the joint borders of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, a center of drug smuggling and alleged terrorist fund-raising, Nisman said.
For years, the Jewish community has pressured Argentine law enforcement to make progress in finding those responsible for bombing the community center. Still, some here saw little new in Wednesday's announcement.
"It doesn't seem to me that there's anything here that's new and relevant," leading Argentine political analyst, Rosendo Fraga, told The Associated Press.
An official statement said prosecutors and Argentine intelligence officers had worked with the FBI and anti-terrorism authorities in Detroit, where two brothers of Hussein Berro now live.
Nisman said Argentine investigators went to the US city in mid-September and were able to obtain valuable testimony from the brothers with the help of US law enforcement agents.
Additionally, Nisman said Hizbullah announced on its radio in Lebanon on Sept. 8, 1994, that Hussein Berro had died in combat with the Israeli army in Southern Lebanon. He alleged the announcement was an attempt to cover up the suspect's death in the suicide bombing.
The prosecutor also said the young man had left his home for Hezbollah camps in Southern Lebanon for training prior to the attack.
Some speculated that the bombing was inspired by Argentina's support for the U.S.-led coalition that expelled Iraq from Kuwait during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Others said that Argentina's Jewish community, one of the largest in Latin America, represented an obvious target for Israel's opponents.
Although Jewish community leaders and others have suspected the involvement of Middle East terrorists, no mastermind has been identified and the victims and their families have become increasingly bitter.
In 2004, about a dozen former police officers and an accused trafficker in stolen vehicles were acquitted of charges that they had formed a "local connection" in the bombing. Jewish activists continued to press for the identification of the "masterminds."