A leading suspect in the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires has been nominated as a government minister by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi, sparking a diplomatic protest from Argentina.
Ahmad Vahidi, who back then headed the Quds, the powerful paramilitary arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was named Iran’s new interior minister by President Raisi last Wednesday.
Argentina's government responded strongly to the news, expressing "its strongest condemnation" of Vahidi's nomination, which must be confirmed by parliament.
Since 2007, Vahidi has been the subject of an Interpol red alert at the request of Argentine courts, which suspect him of being in charge of planning the extremist attack in Buenos Aires while forming part of Quds intelligence operating overseas.
Eighty-five people were killed in the deadly attack, which also left more than 300 injured. Twenty-seven years after it occurred, no-one has been jailed.
Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said the news was “an affront to justice and to the victims of the brutal terrorist attack,” underlining that the courts considered him to be “a key participant in the decision-making and planning of the attack committed on July 18, 1994 at the AMIA building.”
Buenos Aires called on Tehran to “cooperate fully” with Argentina’s courts. Both countries currently have diplomatic relations at the charge d'affaires level.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also added its criticism, describing Vahidi's appointment as "an insult to Argentina and a blow to the families” of the victims of the attack.
This is not Vahidi’s first entry into the Iranian Cabinet – he was the Islamic Republic’s Defence minister between 2009 and 2013. Nor has the Interpol alert prevented him from travelling to various countries around the world either.
In May, 2011, for example, he participated in the 59th anniversary of Bolivia’s Military Aviation College – Vahidi's diplomatic passport in his official capacity completely cancelled out the international arrest warrant. On that occasion Argentina protested to its neighbour for doing nothing to arrest him.
In recent years he has been the chancellor of the Supreme University of National Defence, where he pushed the development of a system of "defence and dissuasion."
Vahidi’s links to AMIA attack
The AMIA bomb attack was attributed to senior Iranian officials, led by then-president Ali Rafsanjani, and the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement, a hypothesis supported by the Argentine Jewish leadership and Israel.
But the judicial investigation was involved in complaints for diversion of leads, convictions for concealment and annulled processes.
In 2007, Argentine secured Interpol arrest warrants for four Iranians, including Vahidi, for their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre.
Iran has denied any involvement in the attack, and has always refused to allow its former officials to be investigated.
According to the investigations of the late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, Vahidi was the commander of the Quds brigade of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. According to Nisman, Vahidi “participated in the meeting deciding the attack in Argentina.”
When he was chosen minister in 2009, Mercosur repudiated his appointment with the words: “Vahidi is accused of having participated in the 1994 terrorist attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) headquarters where 85 people died in Buenos Aires. The decision adopted by the Iranian president constitutes an unspeakable affront to the victims of the massacre and their families, thus deserving the repudiation of the entire community of democratic nations,” as then expressed by the parliamentary assembly of the Latin American trade bloc.
Ebrahim Raisi was inaugurated as Iran’s new president on August 5, in place of Hassan Rouhani. His victory had its surprising elements since the Council of Guardians, a group of 12 elders who accept or veto those contesting the election, decided to exclude from the voting some highly experienced candidates, including former two-term president Mahmud Ahmadineyad.
Approximately 18 million people voted for Raisi out of a total 62 percent of the electorate, 10 points down from the previous turnout of 72 percent, according to CNN. The Iranian government blamed the pandemic for the lower turnout.
Organisations like Human Rights Watch have revealed that Iran’s new president has in the past formed part of the so-called "committee of death" supervising executions. In that context they maintained that he
was named as one of a four-man squad who in 1988 decided to kill between 4,500 and 5,000 convicts.
“Raisi is a pillar of a system which jails, tortures and kills people for daring to criticise state policies,” the executive director of the Centre of Human Rights of Iran (CHRI), Hadi Ghaemi, declared last June.
On Wednesday Argentina repudiated Vahidi’s return to the Iranian Cabinet as an “affront to Argentine justice” and the “victims of the brutal AMIA terrorist attack.”
"Just as was manifested in August, 2009, when Vahidi was named as Defence Minister, his nomination to a ministerial post in Iran has been received with grave concern and merits the most emphatic condemnation of the government of our country," stated the Foreign Ministry, recalling that "Vahidi is wanted by the Argentine courts for his key participation in taking the decision and planning the attack committed on July 18, 1994 on the AMIA building, for which an Interpol international arrest warrant weighs on his head."
"The Argentine government once more requires the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate fully with the Argentine courts, permitting the persons accused of participating in the attack against AMIA to be tried in the competent judicial forum," emphasised the Foreign Ministry statement.
In turn, the Simon Wiesenthal Center described Vahidi's appointment as “an insult to Argentina and a blow to the families” of the victims of the attack, in a statement.