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1994 AMIA bombing

1994 AMIA bombing

The AMIA Bombing was an attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite [i.e., Jewish] Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Carried out during Carlos Menem's presidency (1989-1999), it was Argentina's deadliest bombing. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, the largest in Latin America (see Demographics of Argentina).

Over the years, the case has been marked by incompetence and accusations of cover-ups. All suspects in the "local connection" (among whom many members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police) were found to be not guilty in September 2004. In August 2005, federal judge Juan José Galeano, in charge of the case, was impeached and removed from his post on charge of "serious" irregularities and of mishandling of the investigation.

On October 25, 2006, Argentine prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martínez Burgos formally accused the government of Iran of directing the bombing, and the Hezbollah militia of carrying it out. According to the prosecution's claims in 2006, Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer contract to Tehran. This however, has been disputed, because this contract was never terminated, and Iran and Argentina were negotiating on restoration of full cooperation on all agreements from early 1992 till 1994, when the bombing occurred.

The thirteenth anniversary of the bombing was commemorated on july 18, 2007. In addition to nationwide exhibitions and ceremonies, radio and television stations and police cars all across Argentina sounded sirens at 9:53 am, the time of the bombing.

Bombing

On July 18, 1994, a Renault Trafic van loaded with about 275 kg of high explosive was detonated in front of the Jewish Community Center located in a densely constructed area of Buenos Aires. The explosive is thought to have been arranged to focus the blast on the building 3 to 5 meters away,exhibiting a shaped charge or explosively formed penetrator effect. The exterior walls of this fivestory building were of brick masonry construction, which supported the floor slabs. The air blast from the bomb totally destroyed the exposed load-bearing walls which, in turn, led to progressive failure of the floor slabs and virtually total collapse of the building.Such wall-bearing buildings are notable for their tendency to be brought down in this manner by localized damage.

Eighty-five people died, most of them Jewish. More than 300 others were wounded. The attack came two years after the 1992 Israeli Embassy Attack in Buenos Aires that killed 22. To date, authorities have been unable to locate those responsible for either bombing.

The day after the AMIA attack, a suicide bombing on a Panamanian commuter plane killed 12 Jews and 9 others. A communique was released in Beirut in the name of an unknown group called "Partisans of God" (Ansar Allah), which claimed responsibility for the AMIA blast as well as for the Alas Chiricanas bombing in Panama. After investigations in at least four countries, the claim was discounted and the communique called a hoax.

Eight days after the AMIA attack, the Israeli Embassy in London was car-bombed. No links between any of these bombings have been proved by investigations, and the motive behind such attacks have not been disclosed (including by those alleging that Iran and the Hezbollah were in fact behind these three bombings, carried out in various countries and far from Hezbollah's theater of operations).

In the days following the bombing, Israel sent Mossad agents to Argentina to investigate, and Argentina closed its borders, fearing more terrorists could enter. It is thought possible that the bombers entered Argentina through the Triple Frontier, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Argentina's intelligence agency, the Secretaría de Inteligencia (SIDE), is said to have set up a network of surveillance called "Centauro" in Paraguay.

The Israel Police also sent a team of four forensic scientists to assist with the building of ante mortem files and victim identification. The IDF sent personnel to help the Argentinians with body extrication.

Investigation and responsibility

No suspects have been convicted of the bombing and there have been many allegations made, including those blaming the government of Iran. The investigations were marred by incompetence, former President Nestor Kirchner calling them a "national disgrace" in 2005. Argentine justice accused Tehran in 2006 of being behind the attacks, allegedly because of Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear material delivery and technology transfer.

Ibrahim Hussein Berro

Israeli diplomatic sources who read the "final" report by SIDE on the attack said in 2003 that the attack was a suicide bombing carried out by Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a 29-year-old Muslim who has been honored with a plaque in southern Lebanon for his martyrdom on July 18 1994, the date of the bombing. SIDE and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed this in November 2005.

Berro's two brothers, however, had denied this version in April 2005 before a US prosecutor, stating that Berro had died on September 9, 1994 during combat in Lebanon. No proper autopsies or DNA tests were done. The police dumped in a bin a head, thought to be that of the bomber.

Juan José Galeano's investigations

Federal judge Juan José Galeano followed investigations concerning the "local connection", which included members of the Bonaerense (Buenos Aires Provincial Police). He quickly arrested Carlos Telleldín, alleged to have provided the van used in the bombing, and some 20 officers from the Bonaerense. But a video broadcast on Argentine TV showed him offering Telleldín $400,000, in return for evidence, which led to Galeano's removal from the case in 2003, and his impeachment in August 2005.

Judge Galeano had also issued warrants for the arrests of 12 Iranians, including Hade Soleimanpour, Iran's ambassador to Argentina in 1994. The latter was arrested in the UK on August 21, 2003, at the request of the Argentinian authorities. He was later released because, according to the Home Office, there was not even enough evidence presented to make a prima facie case for the extradition to proceed.

In 1999 an arrest warrant was issued against Hezbollah member Imad Mugniyah, in connection with the attack.

Judge Galeano also interviewed Abolghasem Mesbahi, aka "Witness C", an alleged former Iranian intelligence officer who reportedly said a former Argentine president accepted a $10 million payment from Tehran to block the investigation. Former President Carlos Menem denied the claims, but admitted he had a secret Swiss bank account following a report in the New York Times. Menem claimed in 2004 that the attack had been related to his support to the US during the First Gulf War and to his visit to Israel during his mandate. Abolghasem Mesbahi claimed to the Argentine court that Iran had planned the bombing, thinking the centre was a base for the Israeli secret service.

On September 2 2004, all suspects in the "local connection" (among whom members of the Buenos Aires police) of AMIA case were found to be not guilty. Five persons, including four policemen, were therefore acquitted because of lack of evidence.

On August 3 2005, Judge Galeano's impeachment was successful, and he was formally removed from his post as a federal judge for "serious" irregularities and his mishandling of the investigation. Argentine newspaper Clarín reports that charges will be pressed against him shortly. Judge Galeano has denied these allegations.

In March 2005, Swiss judge Jacques Antenen, in charge of investigations concerning the murder of an Iranian dissident, re-opened the case concerning Iranian intelligence service banks accounts in Switzerland. The same account would have been used both for this assassination and for the alleged payment of ex-President Carlos Menem. Swiss Justice had already been notified of the existence of an account owned by the Red Spark Foundation (based in Liechtenstein), in which Ramón Hernández, former secretary of Carlos Menem, had authority to sign documents. Six millions dollars would have been deposited in this account, although in some moment the exact amount was said to be of $10 millions.

In 2006, the Court of Cassation declared that the previous court had made a false version of the investigated acts in order to cover responsibilities.

Investigations under Nestor Kirchner's government

Nestor Kirchner's government issued a decree in July 2005 formally accepting a share of the blame for the failure of investigations into the attack. He called the unresolved investigations a "national disgrace.". President Kirchner said governments had covered up facts, and that the decree established a mechanism for victims to receive compensation. Shortly after assuming his functions in spring 2003, he opened up Argentine intelligence files on the case, and lifted a decree preventing SIDE agents from testifying in the case.

Argentina's justice, Israel, and the United States suspected in 2005 that Hezbollah was behind the attack, with backing from Iran. Hezbollah has denied responsibility.

On 25 October 2006, prosecutors in Buenos Aires formally charged Iran and Shi'a militia Hezbollah with the bombing, accusing the Iranian authorities of directing Hezbollah to carry out the attack and calling for the arrest of former President of Iran Ayatollah Rafsanjani and seven others, including some who still hold official positions in Iran.

Speaking on state radio, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hoseyni described the accusations against the country as "a Zionist plot." Both Hezbollah and Iran deny any involvement in the bombing.

According to Hoseyni, the accusations were intended to divert "world attention from the perpetration of crimes by the Zionists against women and children in Palestine".

On March 6, 2007, former Congressman Mario Cafiero and former government official Luis D'Elia provided evidence at a press conference that Abolghasem Mesbahi, along with two other Iranians that gave alleged evidence implicating Iran in the bombing, were members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK,) which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US. They also said that there were arrest warrants issued by Interpol for the other two Iranians, Hadi Roshanravani and Hamid Reza Eshagi.

The Iranian government maintains its innocence, condemning the terrorist attack and calling for urgent punishment of those responsible.

Ten years after the terrorist attack, a group of 10 Argentine directors, each financed by a different production company, filmed a collection of 10 shorts in tribute to the victims of the attack. The shorts were collected in the film 18-j, dubbed thus in reference to the date of the attack. The directors were Daniel Burman, Israel Adrián Caetano, Lucía Cedrón, Alejandro Doria, Alberto Lecchi, Sergio Renán, Marcelo Schapces, Carlos Sorín, Juan Bautista Stagnaro, Adrián Suar and Mauricio Wainrot; a small introduction was narrated by actress Norma Aleandro. Each short showed a different scene in the lives of those who witnessed the attack first-hand. The film premiered August 19, 2004.

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