Argentine Prosecutor Dies Before Pinning 1992 Argentine Jewish Center Bombing on Iran

Did Argentine President Cristina Kirchner attempt to derail the investigation of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina bombing? (Photo: Pro.Cre.Ar / Flickr Commons)

Did Argentine President Cristina Kirchner attempt to derail the investigation of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina bombing? (Photo: Pro.Cre.Ar / Flickr Commons)

In the New Yorker, Dexter Filkins piece on the suspicious death of Argentine prosecutor Albert Nisman, whose mission in life was to investigate and prosecute Iran. He believed its operatives plotted and carried out the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish organization, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which killed 85 and wounded than 300. Filkins writes:

In 2006, [Nisman] indicted seven officials from the government of Iran, including its former President and Foreign Minister, whom he accused of planning and directing the attack, along with a senior leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Months later, Nisman secured international arrest warrants for five officials, effectively preventing them from leaving Iran.

He was supported in his quest by reform-minded President Cristina Kirchner —  until he wasn’t.

… in early 2013, Kirchner, known for her erratic manner and ruthless political acumen, made an extraordinary about-face. Following months of clandestine negotiations, she struck a deal with the Iranian government that would, she said, finally break the deadlock over the AMIA case. The deal called for the establishment of a “truth commission” that would allow Argentine judges to travel to Tehran and possibly interview the suspects.

While many Argentines applauded Kirchner’s diplomacy, Nisman told friends that she had betrayed him by making a deal with the Iranians. Secretly, he embarked on another investigation.

Into what?

… of Kirchner herself.

Meanwhile, was Iran, perhaps via Hezbollah, actually guilty of the attack? Neither the evidence nor the motive were convincing. (Note: in 1992 the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was also bombed, killing 29 and wounding 242.) Filkins:

Despite all the detail that Nisman gathered, the question of Iran’s motive was never definitively answered….

Much of the testimony that guided Nisman toward the Iranian regime was provided by a man referred to in court documents as “Witness C”—Abolghasem Mesbahi, an Iranian intelligence agent who defected to Germany in 1996. Mesbahi, too, was vague about Iran’s motivations. He told investigators only that the regime regarded Argentina, whose Jewish population is the seventh-largest in the world, as an easy place to kill Jews.

Yes, that’s a pretty vague reason to mount an attack that had such huge implications for relations between the two countries — and Iran and the West in general.

Meanwhile, Gareth Porter has been covering both Jewish center Argentine bombings for years. In 2008 the Nation published his piece Bush’s Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up. Its subhead, by way of explaining: “The Bush Administration cites a 1994 bombing in Argentina to tar Iran as a sponsor of global terror. But a fresh probe finds no evidence of an Iran connection.” Porter wrote about the 1994 bombing of the Jewish center:

After spending several months interviewing officials at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires familiar with the Argentine investigation, the head of the FBI team that assisted it and the most knowledgeable independent Argentine investigator of the case, I found that no real evidence has ever been found to implicate Iran in the bombing. Based on these interviews and the documentary record of the investigation, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the case against Iran over the AMIA bombing has been driven from the beginning by US enmity toward Iran, not by a desire to find the real perpetrators.

Then, in the wake of Nisman’s death, Porter wrote a piece for the Middle East Eye titled The Nisman murder and the AMIA terror bombing: A tangled thread. Here is an excerpt:

In the context of Argentine political culture, with its long experience of impunity for crimes committed by the powerful, the circumstances of his death have led to a general conviction that the government must have been behind his murder.

But there is good reason to be cautious about that assumption. Nisman’s case against Kirchner was problematic. The central accusation in his affidavit, made 96 times, according to press accounts, was that Kirchner and Timerman had sought to revoke the Interpol arrest warrants against the former Iranian officials. But Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol for fifteen years until last November, denied Nisman’s accusation.  Noble declared, “I can say with 100 percent certainty, not a scintilla of doubt, that Foreign Minister Timerman and the Argentine government have been steadfast, persistent and unwavering that the Interpol’s red notices be issued, remain in effect and not be suspend or removed.”

Porter goes on to dispute the accusations against different Iranians. Nor does Filkins seem convinced it was Iran.

Since the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian regime has maintained an aggressive assassination program. The regime has been accused of murdering at least eighteen people living outside Iran, most of them Iranian dissidents. The most notorious murders took place in 1992, when Iranian agents gunned down four Kurdish exiles at a Greek restaurant in Berlin. In that case, German prosecutors had pursued Iranian officials relentlessly, much as Nisman did.

Yet no one in the Iranian regime seemed especially troubled by Nisman’s public allegations. And even if the regime wanted him dead why wait until after he gave his complaint to a federal judge?

Finally, Filkins again:

Many Argentines I talked with wondered whether he could have uncovered some other secret that caused someone in the Iranian—or the Argentine—government to kill him.