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Bombings in Argentina

(March 17, 1992; July 18, 1994)

Terrorism: Table of Contents | Munich Massacre (1972) | Achille Lauro (1985)

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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.

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.

Shockingly, 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.

Though Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the 1992 bombing, Argentine, Israeli and U.S. officials believe the AMIA attack was carried out by Hezbollah terrorists backed by Iran.

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)

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