Iranian officials threatened a possible cut-off of diplomatic relations with Argentina this week, after Argentina issued its long-awaited indictment of senior Iranian officials for masterminding the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish communal center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
The 400-page indictment, issued last weekend by investigating judge Juan José Galeano, names four Iranian officials, including former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian. Galeano issued arrest warrants for the four and asked Interpol, the international police agency, to arrest them.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry denied any involvement in the bombing and threatened to “take appropriate measures” if the warrants were not withdrawn. The two nations withdrew their ambassadors after the 1994 bombing but maintain low-level ties.
The indictment was greeted by Jewish communal leaders in Argentina with a mixture of relief, after years of suspicion of cover-up, and disappointment that more Iranian higher-ups were not named. “It’s significant progress,” said Alfredo Neuburger, spokesman for DAIA, the main Jewish representative organization. “But we certainly hope that there will be a comprehensive indictment at the end.”
Memoria Activa, a group of family victims that has accused Galeano of covering up the investigation and has called for his resignation, also welcomed the judge’s ruling.
The bombing is the worst terrorist incident in Argentina’s history and the deadliest antisemitic attack anywhere since World War II.
Twenty Argentinian citizens have been on trial for the last 18 months, charged as accessories in the bombing. However, Galeano’s ruling is the first official document linking the bombing to international terrorism.
“The evidence collected indicates that the intelligence network responsible for the AMIA attack was directed by a high sphere of power of the Iranian government,” Galeano wrote in his ruling, a copy of which was obtained by the Forward. “All indicates that the control was in the hands of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security headed by Fallahian, who thanks to the authority and means granted by this position could direct and control the implementation of terrorist acts in all their stages.”
Iran reacted angrily, summoning the Argentinian envoy. In response, Buenos Aires called in the Iranian business attache, the ranking Iranian diplomat in Argentina, but insisted it was not a politically motivated decision.
Galeano did not issue warrants against the top leaders of the Islamic Republic, despite allegations by several witnesses in the case that the decision for the bombing was taken by a top level council headed by Iran’s so-called “supreme leader,” Ali Khamenei, and then-president Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Rather than accusing Iran as such, Galeano opted to blame “radical elements within the Iranian government.” He also refrained from directly accusing Hezbollah of carrying out the operation, as a variety of sources have alleged. Instead he charged a commando unit from an unnamed Islamist terrorist group linked to the Middle East with executing the bombing. No arrest warrants were issued for any members of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militia linked to Iran.
Galeano had been under mounting pressure from other Argentinian officials in recent weeks to point the finger higher. In January, Argentina’s intelligence service, known as SIDE, gave Galeano a report that is said to have blamed the bombing squarely on Iran and Hezbollah.
Two weeks ago, state prosecutors asked Galeano to issue warrants against 16 people, including supreme leader Khamenei and a top Hezbollah operative, Imad Mughniyah (Please see separate article).
In his ruling, the judge countered that there was not enough evidence against 12 of the 16, noting that prosecutors had drawn their accusations in part from the SIDE report, in which Galeano seems to have limited confidence.
Besides Fallahian, Galeano issued warrants against the formal Iranian cultural attaché in Buenos Aires, Moshen Rabbani, and another former diplomat, Barat Ali Balesh Abadi. He also reaffirmed an outstanding international arrest warrant, dating from August 1994, for Ali Akbar Parvaresh, a former member of Iran’s parliament.
Galeano also names as suspects a flurry of Iranian officials and diplomats who are not indicted. Also cited are a number of alleged members of Hezbollah based in the Middle East and in the lawless tri-border area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet.
In his conclusions, Galeano said he had made 20 additional requests for information from foreign governments and intelligence services, including Iran. He expressed particular interest in corroborating intelligence information relating to the identity of a Lebanese suicide driver and the unusual number of couriers, diplomats and envoys who came to Argentina in the months preceding the bombing.
The ruling describes at length the political context in the Middle East at the time, as well as Argentine relations with Washington during the early 1990s, which set the stage for the 1994 bombing and an earlier attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.
The ruling delves into the sophisticated mechanism allegedly used by Iran to plan and carry out the attack, citing visits by Iranian officials and diplomats, the role of the embassy in Buenos Aires, the infiltration of local Muslim communities and the use of front companies.
The judge, who is under investigation by a colleague for his handling of the case, pledged “to continue the investigation in order to achieve the full explanation of the act.”