Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

AMIA Revisited

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Breakthrough on Argentinian bombing

By Colin Rubenstein


On November 9, there was an extraordinary development in an 11-year old case of terrorist mass murder. Argentina finally identified and named the Lebanese Hezbollah member, Ibrahim Hussein Berro, allegedly responsible for the suicide bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in July 1994. The attack left 85 people dead and more than 200 injured.

There has been a decade of political obfuscation and legal misconduct in this case, which has so far prevented justice being achieved. I had the good fortune to be in South America participating in an American Jewish Committee diplomatic mission when this breakthrough was announced.

Following my participation in meetings with Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner and Dr. Alberto Nisman, the newly appointed prosecutor in the AMIA investigation, I am convinced there is now in Argentina a new and very serious determination to pursue justice and successfully identify and prosecute the perpetrators.

During our meeting with the President, he told us of plans to submit a new request to Interpol to reissue warrants for the arrest of 11 Iranians suspected of involvement in the bombings. He also expressed his confidence in the current investigations being conducted by Nisman, (who we subsequently met at the rebuilt AMIA Centre together with local Jewish community leaders and close relatives of the victims). Kirschner also told us that a multilateral approach is needed to isolate Iran and other countries that support terrorism.

The evidence has always led nearly all experts to state that the AMIA attack was carried out by Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy terrorist group based in Lebanon. It is also widely-believed that Hezbollah was behind another bombing two years earlier outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, mostly Argentinian bystanders.

After years of inaction over the bombings, Argentinian officials have upped the ante in attempting to bring justice to those responsible. In March 2003, Interpol was asked for assistance in detaining four Iranian diplomats who were allegedly involved in the bombing. Iran recalled its ambassador from Buenos Aires in response. The judge in charge of the investigation was removed in December of that year as a result of complaints over slow progress.

The latest breakthrough, entailing the naming of the bomber by Argentine officials, comes just over a year after the US House of Representatives passed a resolution pushing for a solution to the case, and also naming Berro as a suspect in the bombings.

A meeting with the Justice Minister Dr Alberto Iribane also focused on the hurdles that have to be straddled in advancing the prosecution case in the AMIA bombing. Also discussed were the broader political and terrorist threats implicit in both Hezbollah’s activities and the stance of the Iranian government. A commitment to consider proscribing Hezbollah was also given.

The AMIA breakthrough topped off an extremely interesting and positive trip. But it also highlighted the significance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for the "wiping of the State of Israel off the map" a couple of weeks ago, a call Argentina immediately condemned. Iranian behaviour in places as far afield from the Middle East as Argentina make it clear this was neither idle rhetoric, nor is Iran’s threat Israel’s problem alone.

Hezbollah terrorist operations have a global reach, with Iranian-funded operational cells in 59 countries. The organization has conducted bombings, suicide attacks, assassinations and hijackings throughout South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Iran is carrying out the policy espoused by Ahmadinejad every day. Through terrorism alone Iran bears responsibility for taking the lives of hundreds of people from Beirut to Buenos Aires. If the ruling mullahs are allowed to secure nuclear capabilities, millions more would be in very real danger.

Dr Colin Rubenstein participated in a diplomatic mission led by AIJAC’s partner, The American Jewish Committee, to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay from Nov. 4 —11.

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