On July 18 1994, a suicide terrorist drove a van loaded with fertilizer and fuel oil into the Jewish community’s Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eighty-five people were killed and hundreds were injured. As with a separate attack that destroyed Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier, killing 29, it has never been solved.
It was Argentina’s deadliest bombing ever. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, the largest in Latin America and sixth in the world outside Israel.
Iran’s specific motivation for the AMIA bombing, according to Nisman, was to punish Argentina for suspending its nuclear cooperation with Iran.
Over the years, the case has been marked by incompetence and accusations of cover-ups. All suspects in the “local connection” (among them, 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 a charge of “serious” irregularities due to mishandling of the investigation. In 2005, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis, was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary.
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 has been disputed because the contract was never terminated, and Iran and Argentina were negotiating on restoration of full cooperation on all agreements from early 1992 until 1994, when the bombing occurred.
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 January 2015, the lead investigator into the 1994 attack on the AMIA community center, Alberto Nisman, accused the president of seeking to take the focus off the Iranian suspects in the case in order to get access to Tehran’s oil. Body of Alberto Nisman found night before he was to reveal explosive details on alleged cover-up deal between Argentina and Iran of 1994 Buenos Aires bombing; federal prosecutor confirms he died of .22 caliber gunshot wound.
Iran has denied any involvement in the Buenos Aires attack and has said the accusations are politically motivated.
But just last week, an Iranian defector in Germany who served as a senior intelligence agent repeated damning accusations in his first public testimony about the bombing.
Testimony from Berlin
The defector, Abdolghassem Mesbahi, said that Iranian officials “led, orchestrated and executed” the 1994 bombing. His court testimony was transmitted from the Argentine Embassy in Berlin through a video link to a courtroom in Buenos Aires.
“A special committee under the direction of [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei . . . made the decision to initiate an attack in Buenos Aires,” said Mesbahi, who has been in exile in Germany since 1996.
Mesbahi also said Soleimanpour was “very, very involved . . . in supporting all areas of the operation” that led to the bombing.
He also repeated an earlier allegation that former Argentine President Carlos Menem was given $10 million to halt investigations against Iran. Mesbahi said a former Iranian cultural attache in Argentina rented the van used in the attack.
Argentine investigators also recently pointed to a Lebanese man allegedly aided by Iran as the suspected suicide bomber. In Galeano’s arrest warrant for four Iranian government officials issued last March, he cited evidence from Argentina’s intelligence agency that “armed units of the pro-Iranian armed group Hezbollah” were involved in the bombing.