Wed Oct 25, 6:09 PM ET
Argentine prosecutors charged Iran and the Shiite militia Hezbollah with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charities office in Argentina that killed 85 people and injured 300.
Prosecutors demanded an international arrest warrant for then-Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and six other top Iranian officials at the time of the attack, and a former Hezbollah foreign security service chief, Imad Fayez Moughnieh.
In a country with a murky record in pursuing the 12-year-old case, relatives and friends of the victims called on President Nestor Kirchner to take swift and strong action to bring it to trial.
In a statement, Argentine chief prosecutor Alberto Nisman declared: “We deem it proven that the decision to carry out an attack July 18, 1994 on the AMIA (the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, a Jewish charities association headquarters in Buenos Aires) was made by the highest authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran which directed Hezbollah to carry out the attack.”
AMIA, supported by Israel and the United States, had long accused Iran of organizing the attack and getting Hezbollah to carry it out.
Those accusations, based on intelligence gathered by the secret services of Argentina, Israel and the US, have been consistently rejected by the Iranian government and Hezbollah.
In Beirut, a Hezbollah source said she had not yet heard that the Shiite militia had been formally charged but that it came as no surprise.
“I have not yet heard that but it is not new,” she told AFP. “The Zionists want that (the two parties be charged).”
The Jewish community in Argentina, some 300,000 strong and the largest in South America, had marked the July 18 bombing annually with a demand that justice be served for the attack, the worst on Argentina’s soil, and another 1992 attack against the Israeli embassy, which claimed 22 lives.
No one has been tried in Argentina or in any other country for the 1994 attack and the police have not identified the perpetrators of the earlier Israeli embassy attack.
On Wednesday, the Delegation of Israeli Associations of Argentina (DAIA) welcomed the charges as a vindication.
“That is what the DAIA has been saying for approximately 12 years, and validates all of our activities in the matter,” Jorge Kirszenbaum, the DAIA president, told the Jewish News Agency.
The AMIA’s group of families and friends of the victims called on the president to proceed with the international arrest warrants sought by prosecutors.
“We ask that the executive power take all possible actions — diplomatic, pursuit and international capture — with regard to the suspects, with the vehemency and intensity that the situation merits,” they said in a statement.
Investigation of the bombing has been a festering issue in Argentina, as Argentine Jews and international rights groups have criticized Argentine leaders for their inability or unwillingness to find those behind the bombing.
On September 2, 2004, an Argentine court acquitted 21 former police officers and a trafficker of stolen cars who were charged with aiding the attackers. The same court then ordered former top government officials investigated for botching the case.
The court found that important evidence against the men had been “irregularly” obtained, and ordered an investigation of Judge Juan Jose Galeano, who presided over the case for nine years, as well as two prosecutors.
Galeano was accused of having paid 400,000 dollars to a key witness to testify against four police officers accused of having provided logistical support in the plot.