Demonstrators protest outside the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires
Theories abound about the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentina anti-terror prosecutor who was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18.
Nisman, who was Jewish, was set to testify the day after his death about the 1994 terrorist attack at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), in which a suicide bomber drove a van full of explosives into the Jewish center.
The attack killed 85 people and wounded about 300, making it the deadliest single attack on Jews outside Israel since World War II.
Since Sunday, there has been an outpouring of outrage in the streets in Argentina. The case also raised the concerns of the local Jewish community who protested on January 21, in front of the AMIA in Buenos Aires, calling for “justicia.”
But who might have wanted Nisman dead — and why? Here are four possible answers.
The Argentine government
When thousands took to the streets this week to express their indignation and to protest the slow pace of justice in the AMIA case, many held signs that read “Cristina, asesina” (Cristina, murderer), a reference to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and “terrorismo del estado” (state terrorism).
Social media networks mentioned conspiracy theories and the Twitter hash tag #HouseofCards was trending the day after the prosecutor died.
Nisman said he was about to publicly incriminate Ramirez. He claimed to have evidence that she and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, hindered the investigation of the AMIA attack to protect ties with Iran, a valuable trade partner.
In fact, the prosecutor already implicated the president in a 289-page report delivered to justice four days before his death. The Supreme Court released the document, which include transcripts of wiretapping between Argentine intelligence agents and Iranian officials. It also details the secret deal they discussed.
The report sets out that the AMIA bombing was a “cover-up plan […] decided by the President and implemented – mainly – by Héctor Timerman, with the collaboration of characters who, by their qualities and expertise, were ideal to carry out a criminal maneuver.”
Yet, not everyone believes the information Nisman provided is accurate.
The Presidency’s Chief of Staff, Jorge Capitanich, said it was “an absurd, illogical, irrational and ridiculous accusation” to “destabilize” the government.
Eugenio Zaffaroni, former judge of the Supreme Court, said that “this poor boy is one more victim of the deviation of the AMIA investigation.” He claimed on national radio that Nisman was given “false leads, false information.”
Iran or Hezbollah
Could Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, have been involved in Nisman’s death to cover up their reputed role in the AMIA bombing?
Tehran has the reputation to send agents abroad to assassinate threats to the Iranian regime, like the attacks carried out in Paris in the mid-1980s due to France’s support of Iran’s sworn enemy Saddam Hussein.
In addition, Nisman issued eight warrants in 2006 for the arrest of senior Iranian and Lebanese leaders, namely former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the secret services Ali Fallahian and Hezbollah top leader Imad Mougniyeh.
These were suspected to have carried away the AMIA attack. Up until now, Iran has refused to arrest them.
Nisman clearly pointed an accusatory finger at Iran: the scheme with the Argentine government aimed at boosting trade of much-needed oil from Iran to ease Argentina’s energy deficit.
That could’ve been an economic win-win situation for the two states as Iran is suffering from international sanctions and Argentina is a pariah of global financial markets.
But it’s not clear why such a shadowy deal was even needed.
Bilateral trade grew by 1,100% from 2009 to 2014, according to the national newspaper La Nacion . Argentina is today one of Iran’s principal food importers. It also exports a significant amount of agricultural products, thereby helping Iran avoid food shortages.
Others have pointed to Israel’s targeted killing of a top Iranian general and the son of a top Hezbollah leader in Syria just hours before Nisman’s death.
Could the prosecutor have been killed in revenge? It seems unlikely given the timing, and the fact that Hezbollah is known to carefully plan such retaliatory strikes for maximum impact on the Jewish state.
Even though it seems far-fetched, some are pointing the finger at Israel.
Argentine deputy Edgardo Depetri said that the Jewish state and the United States have impeded the investigation of the AMIA bombing in an interview on the Spanish-language Hispan TV.
It’s not clear what the motive for such a killing would be for Israel, unless the Jewish state somehow feared the AMIA probe might lead to some other revelations about undisclosed ties to unsavory global actors.
Most dismissed efforts to blame Israel as the typical work of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.
“(It’s) a problem that dates back decades and its latest chapter is Mr Nisman’s mysterious death,” Hernan Charosky, a sociology professor at Palermo University in Italy told the BBC . “We are talking about secret services, conspiracy, the CIA, Mossad, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. We have excellent material for a mysterious death.”
Declassified WikiLeaks cables have indicate that Nisman was close to Israel and the U.S. intelligence services.
Israeli media widely covered Nisman’s death in a laudatory fashion. The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, Emmanuel Nahshon, offered his government’s condolences of a “a brave jurist.”
It’s still possible that Nisman killed himself.
Viviana Fein, the investigating prosecutor in this case, said that the preliminary autopsy found “no intervention” of a third party in Nisman’s death, which came from a gunshot wound to the head. She added that no one forced a way into the apartment in the high-end Puerto Madero district.
There was no gunpowder in Nisman’s hands when he died. Yet, the lack of gunpowder does not rule out suicide as small-caliber weapons, like the 22-caliber pistol found next to his body, do not always leave a trace.
On the streets of the capital and on social media, the suicide theory was immediately dismissed. The murky circumstances of the death and its timing instantly roused suspicion.
The government first referred to Nisman’s death as a suicide, and Fernandez plaintively asked what would make the prosecutor take his own life.
But the president later changed her tune, saying in a rambling Facebook post that, “(I am convinced) was not a suicide.”
Members of Nisman’s entourage as well as ex-wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, said they did not believe he killed himself, according to an interview with a national opposition newspaper. The prosecutor was accustomed to death threats and was escorted by 10 bodyguards, adding further questions about how he could have committed suicide.