(photo credit: Courtesy IDC Herzliya)
Iran orchestrated two bombings in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s, killing more than 100 people, primarily because it was furious over Argentina's cessation of nuclear cooperation with the Islamic Republic, a top Argentinean prosecutor said Tuesday, offering chilling confirmation of the ruthlessness with which Iran has pursued its quest for nuclear capability.
Dr. Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who has secured Interpol backing for the arrests of several leaders in Teheran for ordering the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community offices in Buenos Aires, also urged the international community to pressure Iran into giving up the wanted men for trial.
Nisman said the AMIA blast, in which 85 people were killed, and the bombing of the Israeli Embassy two years earlier, in which 29 people were killed, had been "ordered, planned and financed" by Iran's top leadership. Teheran, he said, was incensed that Argentina, under former president Carlos Menem, had suspended and ultimately stopped what had been close cooperation with the Iranian nuclear program, including the training of nuclear technicians and the transfer of nuclear technology. At first Teheran tried to cajole Argentina into reconsidering, he said. Then it issued threats. And finally, it employed terrorism.
Nisman, on a brief working visit to Israel, said he had received a telephoned death threat at his home and been warned off the case by Iran but would not desist.
Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the IDC Herzliya, Nisman noted that, after hearings last month, Interpol had upheld Argentina's request for the arrests of several Iranian leaders at the heart of the AMIA bombing. The Interpol warrants were first issued in March, but suspended because Iran, an Interpol member, claimed they were unfounded.
Interpol's executive committee voted unanimously to uphold the arrests, he noted, "an unprecedented diplomatic defeat for Iran." And it now fell to the international community to pressure Iran into giving up the men.
While he acknowledged the current Iranian regime would "never" cooperate, he said the men might at some point think it safe to leave the country, and that other factors might yet see them handed over for trial, if only in a third country rather than Argentina. "If I didn't think it possible," he said, "I would have abandoned this."
Nisman was appointed three years ago to head the inquiry into the blast at AMIA (the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association) - the worst anti-Semitic attack outside Israel since the Holocaust and one that remains Argentina's worst-ever case of terrorism. He rapidly exposed the skewed investigation that had been mounted over the previous decade.
Numerous figures involved in the previous investigation, including the previous investigating judge, Juan Jose Galeano, are now themselves on trial or under investigation. Nisman told the Post he was collecting evidence against Menem over the cover-up in the case.
He said the AMIA bombing had been commissioned at a meeting held in Mashad in August 1993, attended by then-president Hashemi Rafsanjani, then-intelligence minister Ali Fallahian and other Iranian ministers and military leaders. The target was suggested by Mohsen Rabbani, who was based in Buenos Aires and had flown in for the meeting. It had been assigned to Hizbullah under its Lebanon-based "special operations" chief, Imad Mughniyah. It was carried out by a Lebanese man, Ibrahim Berro.
Critical to identifying Berro was that he was seen by an Argentinean woman whose young son ran into the road in front of his explosives-filled van as he was driving to the AMIA building, Nisman said. She screamed at the driver, who looked at her, Nisman said, and she was able to help draw up an identikit picture of him.
A full interview with Nisman will appear in a later edition of The Jerusalem Post.
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