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.
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 prosecutor Alberto 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.
Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman penned a letter in February 2015 to his counterpart, US 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.
At the request of all four justices of the National Supreme Court of Argentina, in April 2015 the Argentinian government agreed to finally declassify all intelligence documents and information related to the 1992 attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires.
Sources: AFP, (October 2, 2009); BBC News (September 17, 2003); B'nai B'rith (March 1999); JTA (July 14 & November 10, 2005); Jerusalem Report, (January 29, 2001); Jerusalem Post, (March 31, 2012); Buenos Aires Herald (January 27, 2012); Reuters (February 28, 2013); Washington Free Beacon (June 19, 2013); Times of Israel (January 21, 2014); New York Times, (January 21, 2015); CNN (January 22, 2015); New York Times (February 3, 2015); Reuters (February 17, 2015)