Friday, May 24, 2024

ARGENTINA | 11-04-2024 19:28

AMIA bombing: Argentina court holds 'terrorist state' Iran, Hezbollah responsible

Court blames 'terrorist state' Iran for 1990s attacks; Ex-judge Galeano’s sentence reduced, opening the door to lawsuits in international courts, judges ratify attack as crime against humanity.

Argentina’s Federal Criminal Cassation Court affirmed on Thursday that the deadly attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA Jewish community centre were the responsibility of the Islamic fundamentalist organisation Hezbollah, sponsored by the government of Iran.

The ruling also declared that both episodes should be considered crimes against humanity, thus placing them beyond the statute of limitations despite the passage of time and the lack of judicial results.

Three decades on from the deadly attacks in Buenos Aires, the judges leading the chamber said that Iran – which it branded “a terrorist state” – had ordered the 1992 Embassy attack and 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) centre.

In 1992, a bomb attack on the Israeli Embassy left 29 dead. Two years later, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the AMIA Jewish centre and detonated, leaving 85 dead and 300 injured. The latter was the deadliest attack in Argentina’s history.

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request.

"Hezbollah carried out an operation that responded to a political, ideological and revolutionary design under the mandate of a government, of a State," said Carlos Mahiques, one of the three judges who issued the decision, in an interview with Radio Con Vos, referencing Iran.

The Shiite group "acted under the inspiration, organisation, planning and financing of state and parastatal bodies subordinate to the Ayatollahs' government,” reads the ruling.

A resolution called on the Argentine state to lodge a formal complaint in international courts against the Islamic Republic of Iran, either through diplomatic channels or courts of arbitration. 

In 2006, Argentine prosecutors accused Hezbollah of carrying out the AMIA bombing and top Iranian officials of ordering it. Tehran has denied any involvement. No-one has been arrested in the case, which remains unsolved.

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members. It is also home to immigrant communities from the Middle East – from Syria and Lebanon in particular.

Former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who died in 2021 and was the president at the time of both attacks, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing, but ultimately acquitted.

His former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing the probe.

Anzorreguy was among some dozen defendants who faced a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in the case, including the former judge who led the investigation into the attack, Juan José Galeano, who in 2019 was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.

In its 711-page ruling, the court examined the geopolitical context of both attacks and determined that the motivation for the attacks was, though not entirely, related to the foreign policy approach adopted by then-president Menem.


Families irritated

The decision of the superior tribunal irritated the families of the victims, not because of its content but because they learned via the media since they have yet to be formally notified.

The judges ratified the status of crime against humanity, which in the case of AMIA had already been declared by Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral almost two decades ago.

The decision was welcomed by the president of the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), Jorge Knoblovits.

He told Radio Mitre the ruling "is very important, because it enables the victims to go to the International Criminal Court."

"They not only owed it to Argentina, they owed it to the victims," he added.

The AMIA welcomed the ruling but lamented more than three decades of "impunity" as a "shameful mark in Argentine history."

The three judges leading the court ruled Thursday that the AMIA attack was a crime against humanity, and put blame on then-Iran president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.

The attacks were revenge for "the government's unilateral decision to cancel three contracts for the provision of nuclear material and technology agreed with Iran, as a consequence of a shift in foreign policy between the end of 1991 and mid-1992,” said the ruling.

The judges believe that Iran considered Argentina's non-compliance "intolerable."

For that reason, it decided to plan and carry out the attacks "as an extreme form of pressure on our country to reverse by force of coercion its decision to cancel those agreements,” they wrote.

Mahiques, along with fellow-judges Ángela Ledesma and Diego Barroetaveña, determined that both attacks were planned from Iran and carried out by Hezbollah, an organisation which they defined as a virtual vehicle for terrorist actions.

It called for the modernisation and provision of greater resources for investigators, including the granting of "full access" to the contents of intelligence service archives.


Revised sentences

The court also reduced the prison sentence against ex-judge Galeano from six to four years for his presumed illegal payment to car dealer Carlos Telleldín to falsely implicate Buenos Aires provincial policemen in the attack on AMIA.

The prison sentences of former prosecutors Eamon Mullen and José Barbaccia stayed at two years, while Telleldín was acquitted because his direct or indirect participation in the attack could not be proved. 

Also acquitted was the latter’s ex-wife Ana María Boragni, who during a recent hearing told the court that when the illegal payment of US$400,000 to her ex-husband was agreed, the then-interior minister Carlos Corach was present.

Former DAIA Jewish community association president Rubén Beraja was also among the acquitted.

Ex-judge Galeano was also cleared of covering up the so-called “Syrian connection,” an acquittal further extending to the late ex-president Carlos Menem.

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X he had spoken to his Argentine counterpart Diana Mondino after the ruling, asking that the  country declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organisation.

"Iran is an enemy of Israel and Argentina and, together with Hezbollah, leads terrorist activity in South America and around the world. This decision against the Revolutionary Guard will be an important step in stopping Iranian aggression," he said.

Thursday's judgment came as President Javier Milei's close ties to Judaism and Israel – and his plans to move the Argentine Embassy to Jerusalem – sparked fears the country's Jewish community could again be vulnerable to attack.

"We are already on the radar," Milei said this week when asked about the risk. "The question is whether we are cowards or whether we stand on the side of good," he added.



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