Bombings in Argentina
(March 17, 1992; July 18, 1994)
(Updated May 2016)
In 1992 and 1994, two bombs devastated the Argentinean Jewish community and marked the arrival of Middle
Eastern terrorism to South America.
The Israeli Embassy in Argentina's capital of Buenos Aires was the site of the first
explosion - a car bomb - on March 17, 1992. The attack killed 29 people and injured
more than 250 others. Among the victims were Israeli diplomats, children, clergy
from a church located across the street, and other passersby. The investigation
of the case was assigned to Argentina's Supreme Court and the Chief Justice
Ricardo Levene was given the task of investigating and presenting his
findings to the court. For over two years, however, the investigation
languished and virtually no action was taken, despite the fact that Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility for the explosion.
It was not until July 18, 1994, that the case received serious
attention. On that date, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) Jewish community center in Buenos
Aires was bombed - 87 people were killed and over 100 people were injured. This time, Judge
Jose Galeano was assigned to investigate the case but, like Judge Levene, he
made little progress.
Later in 1994 came the first of several breakthroughs
in the embassy bombing case. Six Lebanese citizens and one Brazilian, arrested
for operating a drug cache, were found to be members of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist organization. The Argentine government
immediately announced that the men were tied to the embassy bombing, however after several
days the supposed suspects were released due to a lack of evidence.
Interest in both cases arose again two years later, in 1996, when the
Argentine National Academy of Engineers revealed an "internal explosion
theory" that, according to their findings, a bomb had detonated inside
of the Israeli Embassy rather than outside in a car.
The theory's conclusion indicated that the Israeli Embassy was attacked by
an employee of the embassy rather than by an external enemy terrorist. The engineers who produced this report had blatantly
ignored the evidence that indicated a bomb had been set off in a car
outside the building and the fact that the Islamic
Jihad had admitted responsibility for the attack did not seem to
deter the engineers and the Supreme Court from blaming Israelis for
their own catastrophe.
Finally, in 1998, a telephone call intercepted from
the Iranian embassy in Argentina demonstrated conclusively that Iran had been involved in the attack on the embassy. Argentina expelled six Iranian diplomats from the country but that
was the extent of their action and it was never determined which
individuals were culpable for the attack.
The Investigation Begins
Although the judicial system in Argentina neglected from properly
investigating the attacks, a number of Argentine politicians did express their concern over
the issue. Unfortunately, there was nothing that the legislative branch can
do because the case was still controlled by the Supreme Court.
For a number of years the case remained dormant, but in 2005 new evidence about wanton mistreatment and abuse of the case was revealed. That year, Justice Galeano was impeached for allegedly
paying a witness $400,000 to change his testimony and for burning incriminating
evidence from the AMIA bombing case. Later, in July 2005, President
Nestor Kirchner formally admitted past Argentine
government culpability in the investigation
of the 1994 AMIA
bombing when he stated that the government withheld
crucial information that could have solved
the case. An Iranian terrorist organization
was still suspected of actually carrying out the bombing, but Kirchner
claimed that much of the responsibility should
fall on the past Argentine government for its poor handling of the attack.
In November 2005, Argentine
Nisman charged 21-year-old, Lebanese citizen Ibrahim Hussein Berro as the suicide
bomber who blew up the Jewish community center in 1994. Nisman
said the man belonged to Hezbollah, that relatives had identified him from
photographs, and that the despite his indictment he had still not ruled out an Iranian connection to the bombing.
In October 2006, Nisman and fellow prosecutor Marcelo Martínez Burgos formally accused top officials within the government of Iran with orchestrating the bombing and Hezbollah for carrying it out. Their indictment stated that the decision to approve the bombing was ultimately made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but other senior government members were also part of the discussion, including then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahijan and National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rouhani.
In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese over the AMIA attack
In October 2009, Federal Judge Ariel Lijo charged Argentina's former president Carlos Menem with several crimes related to the investigations, including concealing evidence and abuse of authority. Menem's brother, Munir Menem, former intelligence services chief Hugo Anzorregui, retired judge Juan Jose Galeano, former deputy secretary of intelligence Juan Carlos Anchezar and former commissioner Jorge Palacios, were also charged with obstructing the first government probe into the 1994 bombing.
In March 2012, Judge Lijo ruled that Menem, Anzorregui, and Palacios would be put on trial for concealing evidence and protecting accomplices in the bombing. Judge Lijo ruling came after evidence was brought to light that Menem and the others had abused their power to hide the involvement of Syrian-Argentine businessman Alberto Kanoore Edul in the attack. That year, the Argentine government also issued arrest warrants for Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and former prime minister Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Despite these developments, not one person has yet been convicted for either bombing.
In January 2013, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran intended to resolve the cases surrounding the two terrorist bombings. On February 28, Argentina's Congress approved an agreement with Iran to investigate the AMIA bombing. Argentinian Jewish leaders were outraged at the decision to involve Iran in a “truth commission” investigating a crime that Iran is believed to have orchestrated.
In January 2015, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor investigating the attacks, was due to appear in front of the Argentine Congress and present his evidence that Iran was behind the bombings and the Argentine government had covered it up. Hours before his scheduled testimony, however, he was found dead in his apartment with one bullet wound to the head and a .22 caliber pistol strewn on the floor near his lifeless body. The door to his apartment was locked and there was no sign of forced entry, so the government immediately ruled his death a suicide. Additional evidence was found, however, that raised doubts that he took his own life; for example, no gun powder was on his hands and no suicide note was found at the scene.
It also seemed to make little sense that, after a 10-year investigation into the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina's history, Nisman would take his own life just as he was about to present the findings that would vindicate his work. Through his research Nisman identified the Iranian leaders who orchestrated and ordered the attack, traced the names of the Hezbollah operatives involved, exposed Iran's terror cells in South America, and uncovered the efforts of Argentinian President Cristina Fernández and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman to cover up Iran and Hezbollah's involvement in the bombings.
Transcripts of intercepted phone conversations between Argentinian and Iranian government officials were made public on January 21, 2015, as part of a 289-page report written by Nisman. The transcripts indicated that Argentina shipped food, and offered weapons to Iran in exchange for oil and a promise to shield Iranian officials from charges they orchestrated the AMIA bombing. Trade between the two countries did increase significantly, with surpluses in Argentina's favor; however, the deal apparently fell through because Argentina could not convince Interpol to rescind arrest warrants against Iranian officials suspected of being involved in the attack.
Argentinian President Cristina Fernández announced on January 22, 2015 that she was convinced Nisman's death was not a suicide, and that foul play was involved. In an official statement Fernández referred to Nisman's death as “the suicide (that I am convinced) was not a suicide.” This stands in stark contrast to her statement directly after she learned of Nisman's death, in which she said "What was it that led a person to make the terrible decision to take his own life?" Although President Fernández eventually announced that she believed that Nisman did not take his own life, she stood by her claims that Nisman's allegations against her government are unfounded. On February 3, 2015, it was reported that the draft of an arrest warrant for Argentinian President Christina Fernández was found in the garbage at Nisman's apartment, adding to the evidence that Nisman's death was the result of foul play in order to shield the Argentinian government.
Following Nisman's death the case was brought to Judge Daniel Rafecas by prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita. Judge Refecas dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence.
Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman penned a letter in February 2015 to his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he requested that during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the United States envoy speak to them about the bombing of the AMIA. Timmerman wrote “I am asking you again that the AMIA issue be included in the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” indicating that he had asked Kerry to include the topic in the past.
In April 2015, at the request of all four justices of the National Supreme Court of Argentina, the Argentinian government agreed to declassify all intelligence documents and information related to the 1992 attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires.
The same month the Argentinean Parliament approved a measure providing compensation to the victims of the AMIA bombing and their families. No details were released beyond the declaration that those who were injured, and the families of those who died, would receive a one-time compensation payment.
Former Argentine President Carlos Menem and several other officials were put on trial begining in August 2015 on charges that they purposefuly thwarted an investigation into the bombing. Judge Juan Jose Galeano was allegedly ordered to stop the investigation into the attack by Menem after it was revealed that the suspect had a personal relationship to Menem's family, according to Argentinian prosecutors. The suspect, Alberto Kanoore Edul, passed away in 2010 and continually denied involvement in the bombing.
International arrest warrants for two Hezbollah members were issued by the Supreme Court of Argentina on October 18, 2015, in connection with the bombings. Hussein Muhammad Ibrahim Suliman and Jose Selan al-Ridah, are wanted for their involvement in both the 1992 and 1994 bombings. Israeli intelligence officials assessed that chances were slim that the criminals would actually be caught, but praised the issuance of warrants for their arrest as very important.
In November 2015, Argentina's newly elected President Mauricio Marci announced that he would be cancelling the agreement signed between his government and Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center. Marci addressed the issue in his first press conference after winning a run-off election on November 22, 2015, stating “we will propose to the Congress to cancel the pact with Iran as we promised in the campaign.” The joint investigation agreement has been the subject of much criticism over the years, due to Iran's involvement in the bombing.
Argentinian federal prosecutor Raul Plee filed a request on December 14, 2015, to re-open the complaint filed by Nisman alleging that former President Fernandez had covered up Iran's role in the terror attacks. During hearings pertaining to the agreement between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the bombings, Plee wrote in his request that Argentina's Foreign Ministry brought forward “secret and confidential” documents that could be useful in proving Iranian involvement in the attacks. Plee requested that these newly released files be sent immediately to Judge Daniel Rafecas, who dismissed the case in February 2015 following Nisman's death.
Following 14 grueling hours of testimony on March 1, 2016, the investigation of Nisman's death was transfered to a Federal court, where it will be investigated as a homicide. Former head of the Argentine Spy Agency Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso contended during his extended testimony that Nisman's death was “intimately linked with the complaint that he made,” alleging the Argentine government was involved in a cover-up of the AMIA bombing. Judge Fabiana Palmaghini declared herself unfit to hear the case, and threw out a February 2016 ruling that there was no evidence Nisman had been murdered, after hearing Stuiso's testimony.
Former President of Argentina Carlos Menem stated on May 13, 2016, that he believed Hezbollah had been involved in the death of his son, who was killed in 1995 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed. In the past Menem and his wife have publicly stated that they believed their son was murdered, but have never divulged who they thought could have been behind the killing. The former President did not give any further details or evidence to support his claim. Menem was President of Argentina from 1989-1999, and currently serves as a Senator.
Sources: B'nai B'rith Center for Public Policy. “Seven years and counting: The 1992 Israeli Embassy Bombing in Buenos Aires,” B'nai B'rith (March 1999);
Shefler, Gil. “Ex-Argentina leader to face terror cover-up trial,” Jerusalem Post, (March 31, 2012);
“Argentina, Iran sign agreement towards solving AMIA case,” Buenos Aires Herald (January 27, 2012);
Popper. Helen. “Argentina's Congress approves pact with Iran to probe bombing,” Reuters (February 28, 2013);
Horovits, David. “Alberto Nisman committed suicide? Let's kill that lie,” Times of Israel (January 21, 2014);
Gilbert, Jonathan. “Argentine phone calls detail efforts to shield Iran,” New York Times, (January 21, 2015);
Castillo, Mariano. “President: Argentine prosecutor's death not a suicide,” CNN (January 22, 2015);
Romero, Simon. “Draft of arrest request for Argentine President found at dead prosecutor's home,” New York Times (February 3, 2015);
Bronstein, Hugh. “Argentina asks the U.S. to include 1994 bombing in Iran nuclear talks,” Reuters (February 17, 2015);
Haaretz. “Argentina to compensate victims of 1994 bombing,” Haaretz (April 30, 2015);
Rey, Debora. “Former Argentine President on trial for bombing cover-up,” AP, (August 6, 2015);
Eichner, Itamar. “Argentina issies arrest warrants for suspects of 1992 Israeli embassy bombing,” Jerusalem Post (October 19, 2015);
“New Argentine president pledges to cancel pact with Iran on AMIA bombing,” JTA (November 23, 2015);
JTA. “Argentine prosecutor asks to reopen Nisman case,” Times of Israel, (December 15, 2015);
“Ex-spy links Argentine gov’t to Nisman death, spurring venue change to murder court,” JTA (March 2, 2016);
“Ex-Argentine leader tells court son was killed by Hezbollah,” AP (May 13, 2016)