His name keeps popping up.
Imad Mughniyeh, the infamous top Hezbollah operative, has been linked to a long list of terrorist acts during the last 20 years. His name is on a warrant for his alleged role in the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. But until recently he was never formally linked to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish communal center in the Argentine capital.
Not until two weeks ago, when Argentinian state prosecutors surprised many observers by asking the judge overseeing the investigation to issue an arrest warrant against him. They also named 15 other Iranian or Hezbollah officials. The judge, Juan José Galeano, did not follow suit.
Numerous persons close to the investigation — including some of Galeano’s strongest critics — have told the Forward repeatedly in recent months that there was indeed very little evidence against the elusive terrorist.
So why did the prosecutors name him now? They declined to comment, but most observers say they appeared to base their analysis on intelligence information provided by SIDE, the Argentine intelligence agency. And some critics say the agency was only trying to please Washington, after years of strained relations, by linking one of America’s worst enemies to yet another terrorist attack.
“It seems to me that this has more to do with relations with the United States than with the reality of the investigation,” one knowledgeable source told the Forward.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Galeano met in Washington with top FBI counter-terrorism officials. He was given evidence placing Mughniyah in Argentina several days before the attack, Marta Nercellas, the lawyer for DAIA, Argentina’s central Jewish communal organization, told the Forward in late 2001.
But the evidence apparently did not convince Galeano. In last week’s ruling, he described Mughniyah’s role as chief of the Hezbollah security apparatus. But he referred only in passing to evidence provided by Argentine intelligence that Mughniyeh had moved to Lebanon one week before the bombing, fueling suspicion that he may have played a role in masterminding it.
Although there are said to be more allegations in a confidential SIDE report handed to Galeano and the prosecutors in January, the judge did not endorse them. One reason seems to be his mistrust of SIDE, which he recently accused of acting behind his back and leaking confidential information to the press.
In one instance, SIDE interviewed a key witness, top Iranian defector Abdolhassem Mesbahi, in October without alerting the judge. The intelligence information about Mughniyah contained in the SIDE report essentially stems from this interrogation, according to Nercellas, the DAIA lawyer. She said that transcripts of the interview provided by SIDE show that Mesbahi accused Mughniyah of playing a coordinating role in the AMIA bombing similar to the one he is accused of having held in the 1992 embassy bombing.
But when the judge interviewed Mesbahi two months later, the Iranian did not repeat such allegations despite being repeatedly grilled on the issue, said Nercellas, who attended the December interview with Galeano and one of the state prosecutors.
“It’s strange,” Nercellas said, adding, “I don’t see much against Mughniyah as of now.”