On Jan. 19, 2015, Argentinian Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment, a .22 caliber handgun and a spent cartridge by his side. Government authorities, including Security Minister Sergio Berni, immediately called it a suicide. But few believed the government claim. Just days earlier, Nisman had told the Argentine newspaper Clarin, “I might emerge from this dead.”
For the past decade, Nisman had been responsible for investigating the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Jewish community center, AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina). He had exposed the Iranian leadership’s masterminding of the terror attack and then publicly accused Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of intentionally concealing Iran’s role. According to the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, Nisman claimed Kirchner had concocted a plan to cover up Iran’s part in the attack in order to move closer to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and establish full economic ties with a “grain for oil” agreement.
His death occurred just hours before Nisman was to have testified at a closed-door hearing in Congress to reveal the particulars of his explosive allegations against President Kirchner and Foreign Minister Timerman.
As more details emerged in the inquiry into Nisman’s death, the claims of suicide became less and less credible and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner changed her position to say that Nisman had been murdered (arguing that it was an effort to frame her and embarass her government). She then moved to dissolve Argentina’s domestic intelligence agency, claiming that rogue spies from that agency were in cahoots with Nisman, feeding him wiretap information, and helping him build a case against her in their efforts to undermine her. Meanwhile, the journalist who first broke the news of Nisman’s death, Damian Pachter, fled the country, explaining in Ha’aretz that he was being stalked and that his life was in danger.
The prosecutor’s murder (and government reaction) is the latest thread in a sordid and tangled web of crime, intrigue, corruption and cover-up that has marked efforts to prosecute those responsible for Argentina’s deadliest attack. More than 20 years on, the questions surrounding responsibility for the AMIA terrorist attack are even more compelling: Who killed Alberto Nisman and why? Who and what did Alberto Nisman expose? What was Iran’s role? How was it covered up? Who were the prominent players and how do they continue to influence global events today? Many of these questions remain to be answered.
July 17, 2013
The AMIA Case
On July 18, 1994, just two years after an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people, a similar terrorist attack was carried out against the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. The terrorists detonated a Renault Trafic van full of explosives in front of the building housing the Jewish community center, killing 85 people and wounding hundreds more.
It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history.
To date, no suspect has been convicted in the attack. The case has dragged for more than two decades under several different presidential, police and intelligence administrations. Early investigations were plagued by political corruption, cronyism, and cover-ups, resulting in the dismissal and impeachment of the presiding judge, Juan José Galeano, as well as the detentions of former President Carlos Menem and Argentine Intelligence Service (SIDE) Secretary Hugo Anzorregui.
The investigation then continued under Attorney General Alberto Nisman and District Attorney Marcelo Martinez Burgos, exposing Hezbollah terrorists as the perpetrators of the AMIA attack, working for their Iranian masters. Those who masterminded the attack and chose the Jewish target in Buenos Aires came from the highest echelons of Iran’s leadership. Most are still powerful leaders and decision makers in Iran.
The First Investigations: A Decade of Incompetence and Corruption
On the day of the bombing on July 18, 1994, Juan José Galeano was appointed to investigate and prepare the case against those responsible for the AMIA attack. The investigation was separated into two streams, “local connection” and “international connections.”
Most of Galeano’s efforts were focused on the “local connection” investigation, which became tangled up with a separate investigation of police officers working the Province of Buenos Aires. This case, dubbed the “Brigades Case”, turned out to be politically motivated with trumped up charges that were eventually dismissed.
The first person detained in connection with the AMIA attack was a local petty criminal, Carlos Alberto Telleldin, who dealt with stolen cars. He was accused of furnishing the Renault Trafic van that was used in the attack. Telleldin changed his initial version of events to implicate Buenos Aires police officers in the AMIA attack, after receiving an offer of $400,000 from Judge Galeano. In his subsequent testimony, he claimed he had transferred the van to four police officers who, in turn, gave it to the AMIA perpetrators. Later, a video clip surfaced showing Judge Galeano offering Telleldin payment. It was broadcast on Argentine television. This public evidence of corruption led to Galeano’s dismissal from the case in December 2003, and he was replaced by Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral.
Months after Galeano’s dismissal, and almost three years after the trial began, Carlos Telleldin and the other defendents in the “local connection” trial — in total 22 people accused of complicity in the attack — were acquitted for lack of evidence.
While investigating the “local connections”, Galeano dismissed early evidence regarding the involvement of Jacinto Kanoore Edul, a textile merchant of Syrian origin, who had telephoned Telleldin about the van shortly before it was transferred. As it turned out, Kanoore Edul’s agenda book contained the telephone number of Iranian Cultural Attaché Mohsen Rabbani, who was a suspect in the bombing. Galeano then ordered Kanoore Edul’s phone line to be tapped, but the transcripts of those wiretaps disappeared.
President Carlos Menem, himself of Syrian extraction, had longstanding t
ies to Kanoore Edul’s family. Menem was later accused of having obstructed justice by attempting to suppress the so-called “Syrian connection” to the bombing. Others accused of involvement in the cover-up were Menem’s brother Munir, and Secretary of Intelligence Services (SIDE) Hugo Anzorreguy, as well as multiple other government, police and intelligence officers. Former President Menem has also since been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Iranian government (presumably for cover-up) and transferring it into a Swiss bank account.
As a result of the serious irregularities in the AMIA inquiry and trial, Judge Galeano was impeached for judicial malfeasance in 2005. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Justice upheld Galeano’s impeachment for non-performance of his duties.
In a judicial statement made public shortly before his dismissal from the trial, Galeano conveyed uncertainty and confusion about the perpetrators and planners of the attack, suggesting he was unable to identify the van’s suicide driver, accomplices, and organization. Nor did he identify those who acquired and set up the van with explosives. He referred generally to “radical elements” in the Iranian government, naming as suspects Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, two minor diplomats and Iranian Cultural Attaché Mohsen Rabbani, who apparently managed to live unimpeded in Buenos Aires for more than two years after the attack until he returned to Iran. Galeano had also requested information about a Hezbollah member suspected of involvement, but nothing resulted from any of these inquiries or suspicions.
As a result of Judge Galeano’s tepid pursuit of the “international connections” and his record of corruption, no one was ever brought to trial in this part of the investigation. Although the judge had issued warrants for the capture of several Iranian suspects, only one was apprehended, and then, just for a limited time. In August 2003, Hade Soleimanpour, who had served as Iran’s Ambassador to Argentina at the time of the AMIA bombing was arrested in London, but the British Government rejected his extradition to Argentina and released him. citing a lack of prima facie evidence to implicate him in the bombings. Galeano’s requests to Interpol for the capture of other Iranian suspects were similarly rejected as Interpol’s executive committee invoked its distrust in Galeano’s handling of the case. Thus both sides of the AMIA investigation ended in failure.
The Jewish community and Memoria Activa (Active Memory), a civil association created by family and friends of the AMIA victims, were furious at the irregularities and lack of progress in the trial. Many believed that Argentine intelligence agents had identified and uncovered terrorist networks but nonetheless failed to prevent the attack. In 1999, Memoria Activa filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) accusing the Argentinian government of responsibility for violating the victims’ right to life and physical integrity, and for violating the rights of the victims and their families to obtain justice at local courts, which, they said, had failed them. Based on this complaint, the Washington-based American University Law College Dean, Claudio Grossman, was named International Observer in the criminal case concerning the AMIA attack.
The Investigation: The Next Decade
Prosecutor Nisman’s Findings About Iran’s Involvement
In September 2004, the General Attorney’s Office created a Special Prosecutor Unit to investigate the AMIA bombing directed by Attorney General Alberto Nisman and District Attorney Marcelo Martínez Burgos. Two years later, on October 25, 2006, the Investigations Unit of the Office of the Attorney General drafted a report, based on these investigations. It charged Hezbollah terrorists with carrying out the attack, on the orders of the highest authorities in the Iranian government and assisted by local Iranian diplomats in Argentina.
1. The Decision to Carry Out the Operation
According to Nisman and Martinez Burgos’ report:
One of the most salient elements linked the highest instances of the Iranian government as being responsible for the attack against the AMIA, supported by the statements of various individuals (from a cross-section of ideological allegiances) who in one way or the other had ties to the regime in Teheran and whose testimonies showed us that the decision to carry out the attack was taken on August 14, 1993 in Mashad, Iran at a meeting of the Committee for Special Operations (Omure Vijeh) that was composed at that time of the high religious and political figures of the regime.
Abolghasem Mesbahi, a former Iranian intelligence officer who was one of the founders of the intelligence ministry (Vevak) but subsequently defected, was cited in the report describing how the Committee for Special Operations, the Omure Vijeh, was established specifically to plan terror attacks (such as the AMIA bombing) on foreign soil. Mesbahi himself had been chosen to participate, because he had taken part in similar attacks and had maintained a close relationship with Said Eslami, the deputy minister of Vevak. (Mesbahi fled Iran in 1996 when he was told by Eslami that his life was in danger.)
The plan to carry out a terror attack in Argentina had actually originated in the Office of Intelligence and Security, headed by then-Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and composed of Intelligence (Vevak) Minister Ali Fallahian; Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Velayati; Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) Commander Mohsen Rezei; and Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force Commander Ahmed Vahidi. It then went to the special committee, the Omure Vijeh, which was headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Other members of the Omure Vijech included some of the same members of the Office of Intelligence and Security as well as Supreme National Security Council Secretary (and current President) Hassan Rouhani. But Rouhani apparently did not attend the meeting where the decision to carry out the AMIA attack was made. Nor was he implicated in the AMIA bombing, according to a private communication with Nisman.
Members of the Omure Vijeh in attendance at the 1993 AMIA planning meeting were Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Foreign Affairs Minister Velayati, and Vevak Minister Fallahian. Also in attendance were Mohsen Rabbani, who at the time seved as Sheik of the At-Tahuid mosque in Buenos Aires, and Ahmad Asghari, who was serving as third secretary of the Iranian em
bassy in Buenos Aires. They had been summoned from Argentina to Iran to guide and develop the proposal to carry out a terrorist attack in Argentina. Rabbani and Asghari’s presence at the meeting indicated their key roles in Iran’s intelligence operations in Buenos Aires at the time. The report notes that without those two players “an operation of such a magnitude as the AMIA attack could not have taken place.”
Informant Abolghasem Mesbahi pointed to Mohsen Rabbani, who had both intimate knowledge of the plan and was a longtime resident of Buenos Aires, as the one who was instrumental in finding the target in Buenos Aires. He provided information about potential targets in the area, and guided the ultimate decision to bomb the Jewish center. Once the target was decided, Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian took over. From his perch in Iran, he organized and oversaw the various aspects of the operation. Imad Mughniyeh was chosen by Fallahian to coordinate the operational aspects of the attack. Mughniyeh was a senior member of Hezbollah who was in charge of the terror group’s international operations, i.e. bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations (including US embassy bombings and the bombing of the US barracks in Beirut). Mughniyeh’s role in the AMIA operation was to engage an operative team to carry out the attack. It is believed that members of the operative team entered Argentina in early July 1994, as indicated by telephone call records analyzed by Nisman’s investigation team. Iranian Embassy Third Secretary Ahmad Asghari was put in charge of activating clandestine networks in Argentina while Sheik Mohsen Rabbani was put in charge of local logistics for the attack.
Regarding the high level involvement by Iranian leaders revealed in the investigation, prosecutors Nisman and Martinez Burgos note that:
The then government of Iran established an intricate mechanism for making decisions to carry out terrorist attacks. This mechanism constituted a dynamic process within which the main elements of the Iranian government interacted. In describing this mechanism, we should not lose sight of the institutional gravity entailed by the fact that top Iranian officials were directly involved in making decisions to carry out terrorist attacks.
The official stamp on the Omre Vijeh‘s decision to launch terrorist attacks was a formality. Abolhassan Bani Sadr, a former Iranian President who was impeached and went underground, eventually finding political asylum in Paris, testified to Nisman’s committee, explaining that while the Supreme Council “could not officially adopt a decision of this kind (to launch a terrorist attack), its members (the same people who served on the special committee) constituted a kind of parallel council that existed in reality but not officially.” Once the decision was made at the parallel council, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei authorized the plan, turning it into a religious decree, or fatwa. Bani Sadr explained:
The authorization needs to come from the leadership, because in its absence the action would be considered as a serious breach or at least a minor offense, making it illegal according to Islamic law. For example, when Khamenei authorizes a certain action, he is fulfilling his duties, and it is not considered a crime.
2. Terrorism as an Instrument of Foreign Policy
Nisman and Martinez Burgos conclude “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that during the period leading up to the AMIA bombing, Iranian government and state resources were committing crimes “that enter the definition of international terrorism.” The Iranian decision-makers “saw such actions as a means to export a radical Iranian version of Islam, and at the same time to eliminate opponents of the regime.” The report notes that: “verbal excesses and veiled threats by the Iranian leaders often directed against their opponents and against the government of Israel are not mere verbiage: they are translated into concrete criminal actions.”
The prosecutors describe the “terrorist matrix” they discovered that was built around the Iranian government’s centralized decision-making process, with the use of embassies and cultural offices as intelligence branches: the use of officials as agents; the establishment of a system of cells and liaisons; the creation of front businesses; the use of mosques as recruitment centers for fundamentalist operatives and as conduits for sensitive information; the use of car bombs to perpetrate attacks, and the presence of teams of operative groups.
Nisman and Martinez Burgos analyze and compare various terrorist operations directed by Iran in the same period as the AMIA attack (among them, the assassinations of Iranian dissidents Kazem Radjavi in Switaerland in 1990 and of Chapour Bakhtiar in Paris in 1991; the 1992 assasinations of Iranian-Kurdish opposition leaders at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, the 1994 bombing of a commuter flight over Panama that killed 21; a 1995 bus bombing in Gaza that killed eight people, including New Jersey native Alisa Flatow; the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen). Those attacks all followed a similar modus operandi, where the Iranian government left its imprint on the events in which it was involved. According to the prosecutors, “the attack on AMIA exhibited these telltale patterns and thus clearly indicates that the Iranian government was the perpetrator of this criminal modality at the time.”
The report details the double track of Iran’s diplomatic actions abroad, conducted openly through the usual political channels, and Iran’s parallel covert, terrorist actions. According to testimony heard in the investigation:
Iran systematically used embassies as intelligence services, where embassy employees were assigned the task of secretly gathering intelligence that would ultimately be used by Iran’s leaders to make decisions concerning the implementation of specific actions. The intermeshing of diplomacy and espionage reached such a broad scope that the Iranian government created an office that served as a link between the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Intelligence (Vevak). This entity was known as Office 240 and its mission was to coordinate the activities of intelligence agents who were travelling abroad under diplomatic cover.
In addition to the intimate link between the Vevak and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs., there was a significant level of cooperation between Vevak and the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad). The latter helped recruit Islamist militants to participate in clandestine operations . The Foreign Ministry, which also employed the Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran) to help carry out their policies, provided diplomatic cover and passports, and helped transport military equipment in diplomatic pouches.
Regarding the AMIA attack, Foreign Affairs Minister Velayati not only participated in the decision-making process that led up to it, but used his Ministry to p
rovide a diplomatic cover for the Iranian agent with the highest degree of involvement in the attacks (for example, Mohsen Rabbani). He provided necessary resources to carry out operations, including choosing members of his foreign affairs ministry to help with organizational aspects of the attack, all the while taking precautions to make sure that the most visible Iranian diplomats in the region would not be implicated.
3. Infiltration Into Argentina
According to Nisman’s findings, even before the attack against AMIA “the government of Iran had established in Argentina a clandestine intelligence and spying infrastructure, which gradually and systematically started to gain momentum as the day of the attack got closer.”
The report provides further details of the spying network:
Argentina was infiltrated by Iran’s intelligence service, which in the mid 1980s began establishing a vast spy network that then became a complete intelligence service that comprised the Iranian embassy and its Cultural Bureau in Buenos Aires; extremist elements that were associated with the Shiite mosques At-Tauhíd in Floresta, Al Iman in Cañuelas and El Mártir in San Miguel de Tucumán; the businesses that we refer to as “fronts” – GTC and Imanco; as well as other radicalized members of the Islamic community, who were in Argentina for the sole purpose of gathering the information and making the arrangements that paved the way for realization of the attack on AMIA on the morning of July 18, 1994.
Our report uncovers the hand guiding these efforts from behind, none other than Sheik Mohsen Rabbani who later became the Cultural Attaché of the Iranian embassy in Argentina. From the moment of his arrival in the country in 1983, Rabbani started setting down the foundations on which the surveillance network would eventually be established and built up.
Claudio Grossman, International Observer for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), pointed out how Argentinian powers allowed this to happen. He tnoted that the Supreme Court of Argentina did not allow the investigation of Rabbani before 1994, and then, the Government “invited him” to leave the country. Rabbani, however, stayed in the country even following the AMIA bombing without consequences until he returned to Iran in 1998, after having resided in Argentina for 14 years.
The Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires became a sort of nerve centre, with sleeper cells made up of Vevak agents. According to informant Abolghasem Mesbahi, they had a clear mission — “to learn the language and become part of the society. They understood that they could be called on to serve as agents at any moment…” Mesbahi indicated that “the first stage in the life of a sleeper agent was to become a student, and the second one was to get a job in a ‘business’.” These businesses were front companies.
4. Front companies
An important part of the Iranian intelligence network in Argentina was the establishment of businesses used to carry out intelligence activities for Vevak. Under the cover of their Argentine business operations, they provided logistic support, as well as a front/cover up for ndividuals linked to the Iranian government and intelligence service in Argentina. These individuals served as managers or held high positions in the companies. According to a US Congressional brief cited in Nisman’s report, the front companies “specialized in organizing a network of clandestine support elements that provided logistic and material assistance for intelligence gathering and recruitment activities.”
Nisman’s investigation reveals that operations were organized in Argentina through a local branch of the state-owned company Government Trade Corporation (GTC), formally registered as the Argentine GTC affiliate in 1985. In mid-1993, both the GTC branch and the Iranian Cultural Bureau moved to the same building. The GTC was the commercial representative for the Iranian government and was frequently in contact with Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires. The Argentine Secretary of Intelligence confirmed that GTC provided a cover for Iranian intelligence operatives in Argentina. One of GTC’s senior executives in Argentina, Seyed Jamal Youssefi, had previously served as the Commander of the First Division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) and was a member of the Quds Force. Youssefi was a regular fixture at the embassy and transferred intelligence obtained via GTC to embassy personnel. It is believed that Yousefi’s presence in Argentina was not to carry out commercial activities, but rather to provide services for the Iranian intelligence agency.
Youssefi’s replacement, Hossein Parsa, held a service passport as well as an ordinary one. Parsa’s rental agreement for an apartment was signed at the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires, witnessed by Youssefi and the embassy’s third secretary, Ahmad Asghari. Suspicious telephone records traced to that apartment included incoming calls from the Iranian Cultural Bureau and a phone call placed just hours before the attack to an Iranian ministry believed to have been a base for the Iranian Quds force. Parsa is therefore strongly suspected of having provided local logistical support for the AMIA attack.
Regarding the GTC’s finances, its only income declaration to the Federal Revenue Service (Administración Federal de Ingresos PÃºblicos, the equivalent of the IRS in the U.S.) was for the period of January-February 1995, during which time no commercial activity was recorded. Given the company’s irregular tax status and flimsy documentation, the prosecutors concluded that its sole raison d’Ãªtre was to provide support and cover for the intelligence network that the Iranian government had established in Argentina – not to carry out commercial activities. It is also noteworhty that following the AMIA attack, Iran recalled its commercial representative at the GTC.
Another company called Imanco SA was similarly established by Iranian residents in Argentina. It entered into the trade registry in 1989, described as an import-export company. But Imanco, too, had suspicious documentation, reporting only losses and no commercial transactions, except for a 25,000 peso sale in July 1993. The prosecutors conclude that the purpose of this company, as well, was to provide cover for Iranian government agents that were operating in Argentina.
Nisman and Martinez Burgos summarized the connection between Imanco and GTC:
Both companies used some of the same personnel who were partners in Imanco and also worked for GTC. These individuals, along with Parvas, later worked (after the AMIA attack, it is noted) for South Beef S.A., another company that Argentine Intelligence suspected as a front.
Informant Mesbahi spoke of a meeting between Iranian officials about “improving the Iranians’ situations – should evidence be found of Iranian involvement — to permit them to move on to improved busines
s relations with Argentina.” Indeed, the National Statistic and Census Institute show that in the three months after the attack against AMIA, Argentine exports to Iran quadrupled, a trend that carried over into the following year. This sudden increase in Iranian trade was seen by the prosecutors as a deliberate attempt by the Iranians “to create a dilemma for the Argentines, where they would have to opt between an increase in export earnings or insisting that the Iranian government was behind the AMIA attack.”
5. Mohsen Rabbani: Mosques and Money
According to the Argentine files for 1984 at the National Real Estate Registry, the At-Tauhid mosque was owned by the government of Iran. A secretary at the Iranian Embassy testified that Iran also financed the mosque.
The sheik at At-Tauhid mosque was Mohsen Rabbani whose links to Hezbollah were traced through the records of the At-Tauhid mosque. For example, a telephone call by Rabbani was made to the home of the secretary of the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Fadlallah in Beirut. Informant Mesbahi testified that Rabbani’s main activities in Argentina were to manage Hezbollah’s affairs.
One of the things that first drew suspicion to Rabbani was that he deposited large sums of money in various accounts in Argentina during the period leading up to the attack. Rabbani’s deposits substantially increased during the first half of 1994, compared to the same periods in the prior two years. Moreover, following his return to Argentina from Iran (where he had been summoned for the 1993 AMIA attack planning meeting), Rabbani opened a new account at Deutsche Bank. In the months before the attack, March and April 1994, several international transfers amounting to 150,000 dollars were deposited in that account. According to the investigation report:
Three of these transactions show that the funds in question were transferred from abroad, from Banco Melli Iran and sent to the Union of Swiss Banks and to the Deutsche Bank. This demonstrates that the aforementioned funds were sent from Iran.
The report notes that in 1994, Rabbani withdrew $284,388, more than half of which was withdrawn in the six months before the attack. These withdrawals drew upon the vast majority of all the deposits in those bank accounts since 1992. The prosecutors believed this underscored the fact that Rabbani was the contact providing financial support for the planned attack against the AMIA, confirming Mesbahi’s identification of Rabbani as head of logistics for local operations.
Before the AMIA attack, Rabbani was known to have inquired at various car dealers in Buenos Aires about vans like the one used in the bombing. This fact is based both on Argentine intelligence photos and testimony from witnesses. Minutes after the van was parked near the AMIA, Rabbani called the At-Tauhid mosque from his cell phone. The relay tower that transmitted the call located Rabbani near the parked van. The prosecutors note that:
…the analysis of the telephone records in the case file showed that after Rabbani’s call, he made another call from a public telephone close to the At-Tauhid mosque. The call he made was to a mobile phone in the city of Foz de IguazÃº, in the so-called triple frontier region. It belonged to the person in charge of coordinating the operatives in Buenos Aires.
Athough Rabbani had been posted in Argentina since 1983, he became Cultural Attaché to the Iranian Embassy in Argentina, with diplomatic status conferring diplomatic immunity, only four months before the attack. According to the prosecutors, “this was how the Tehran regime adopted a series of measures aimed at protecting itself and its officials from any accusations that might be leveled at them in the wake of the attack.”
According to Nisman and Martinez Burgos:
Applying the requisite burden of proof, the evidence gathered in the course of the criminal investigation has allowed us to identify Rabbani as the main figure involved in the preparations for the attack against the AMIA.
Rabbani’s role was summarized in the testimony of Abolghasem Mesbahi. He noted that Rabbani took care of “the elements needed to obtain the van; a place to hide the van for a number of days; and the elements needed to arm the bomb. Rabbani was also in charge of gathering security and geographical information pertaining to the route to the target.”
6. Unusual Movements and Abrupt Departures
Shortly before the attack, there was a drastic increase in both the sums of money and the number of diplomatic officials sent by Iran to Argentina, far beyond anything seen until then.
According to the prosecutors, the intense exchange of diplomatic pouches “analyzed in light of the evidence in the reports, has led us to infer that the operations that were detected were either a smoke screen or else were used to transport sensitive information and/or materials, or both, in a direct effect of the preparations under way to carry out the attack against the AMIA.”
The arrival near the time of the attack of Iranian diplomats from Germany, Iran, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay with ties to Iranian intelligence drew suspicion about the purpose of their visits. Prosecutors, however, were unable to corroborate witness accounts about these diplomats, the reasons for their trips, or their connection to the AMIA attack.
Also suspicious were the sudden departures of certain diplomats shortly before the attack. For example, Ahmad Asghari, the Third Secretary of the Iranian Embassy, who had travelled to Iran for the 1993 AMIA attack meeting, was originally scheduled to leave in October 1994. Instead, he suddenly left Argentina on July 8, just 10 days before the attack. His departure was so abrupt that the Iranian Embassy forgot to report the exact day his functions were officially terminated. Further casting suspicion on Asghari was testimony from Argentine secretaries working at Iran’s embassy. They noted that prior to the attack, Asghari had taken over the task of picking up the diplomatic pouches at the airport, a task hitherto assigned to the chauffeurs of the Embassy. This was corroborated by one of the drivers.
Just prior to the attack, Iranian ambassadors started to hastily depart from neighboring countries. In the last phase of the operation, 18 days before the attack, the Iranian Ambassador to Argentina, Hade Soleimanpour, travelled to Miami, returning shortly after the attack. In other words, the highest ranking Iranian official was temporarily absent from the country, as were the ambassadors to Chile and Uruguay who took the same flight to Frankfurt one day before the attack.
The conclusion of the prosecutors was that this maneuvering by Iranian government was meant to prevent their officials — and by extension, the Iranian government itself — from being linked to the attack.
7. Theories About Why the Attack was Carried Out in Argentina
Some Argentine media sources focused on a ‘Syrian trail’ to provide clues about the reasons for the attack. For example, Página12, published an article indicating that “during the Presidential election campaign, Carlos Menem entered into some agreements with the Syrian regime” whereby Syria would contribute funds to his presidential campaign in exchange for which Menem would honor Syrian demand for nuclear technology. Submitted as evidence was a photocopy of a cheque from the Libyan government to Menem’s presidential campaign. According to this theory, Menem cancelled the agreements with Syria after becoming president and as a reprisal, the AMIA attack was planned and carried out by the Lebanese Hezbollah terror organization. (At the time, Lebanon was ruled by a Syrian military protectorate.)
These reports, however, ignore the technology transfer contracts between Argentina and Iran, subsequently cancelled by Argentina, as well as Iran’s close ties to Hezbollah and Syria.
In the late-1980’s, Argentina signed contracts with Iran’s Atomic Energy Commission to convert the reactor core at the nuclear research institute in Teheran into a facility that could be used to produce 20%-enriched Uranium 235; to supply a research plant capable of purifying and transforming uranium; and to supply an additional plant for the preparation of fuel components. These projects were to be overseen by the Nuclear Technology Centre in Isfahan. Although work was initiated on these projects in early 1991 and the first delivery to Iran was scheduled for December 1991, Argentina subsequently established new foreign policy objectives and the shipment of nuclear material to Iran was suspended. Shortly afterwards, the contracts with Iran’s atomic agency were permanently cancelled.
Nisman and Martinez Burgos explain:
At the time of the attack against the AMIA, the regnant situation in Argentina was the following: its borders were all permeable, its immigration control system was inadequate, and the investigation of the attack perpetrated two years before against the Embassy of Israel showed little promise of ever apprehending the culprits. All of this contributed to making Argentina the ideal choice not only for Iranian intelligence operations, but also (and especially), the target of a new attack. At the same time, the situation had to be assessed against the background of the events surrounding the termination of the nuclear materials transfer agreement with Iran, cancelled by Argentina. These events bore a lot of weight, in our opinion, in Iran’s decision to carry out a terrorist attack in Argentina.
8. The Suicide Bomber
Hezbollah operative Ibrahim Berro was identified as the suicide bomber who carried out the AMIA attack.
The first concrete information about Berro comes from a 2001 meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, between representatives of the Argentine Secretary of Intelligence, the FBI and a source whose identity remains secretive. Regarding this testimony, the prosecutors note:
It has been conclusively demonstrated that on the 18th of July of 1994 Ibrahim Berro, a Lebanese citizen and member of Hezbollah, was the person driving the Renault Trafic van which exploded in front of the AMIA, killing Berro…It is important to emphasize in this respect…that the militant doctrine held by Ibrahim Berro as an active member of Hezbollah is a fact that has been openly admitted by his brothers and by Hezbollah itself.
A 2005 article in the newspaper La Nación describes an interview between Nisman and Martinez Burgos and Ibrahim Berro’s brothers living in the U.S.:
In secret, AG Nisman and DA Martinez Burgos travelled on September 18th and 19th to Detroit where they interrogated the Berro brothers with the assistance of the Attorney General in the Michigan Counterterrorism office, Barbara McQuade.
Hassan Berro recalled that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had attended and spoken at the funeral of his father, aired on national television. In his speech Nasrallah lauded Hassan’s father as having “raised two suicide attackers.” Another brother, Assad, had been killed in a suicide car bombing against an Israeli military convoy in 1989. Therefore, Nasrallah’s words are understood as reference to Ibrahim Berro as the second suicide attacker as there were no other Berro brothers who had died in suicide attacks.
Comparisons of an identikit assembled 72 hours after the attack on the basis of a witness who had seen Berro driving the Trafic van and photographs of Ibrahim Berro supplied by his brothers confirm that it was the same Ibrahim Berro who appeared in the photos and matched the data from the identikit.
As to the communiqué claiming responsibility for the attack by a group calling itself “Ansar Allah,” the prosecutors noted that this one of many fictitious names that Hezbollah uses to claim responsibility for terror attacks. They note that “experience has shown that Hezbollah routinely uses this ploy with the obvious intention of circumventing the condemnation aroused by the kinds of actions it has engaged in, except for those carried out in Lebanon.”
Similarly, while Hezbollah announced that Ibrahim Berro had died in combat against Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, and that it had been impossible to recover his remains, the witness interviewed in Montevideo explained that Hezbollah sometimes announces the death of “militants” as having occurred in Lebanon, when in fact they were killed on foreign soil. The prosecutors explained that by declaring that Berro was killed in Lebanon, Hezbollah was covering up its own participation in the AMIA attack.
9. Arrest Warrants
The Prosecutors concluded their report by asking the Court to issue national and international arrest warrants for the arrests of the following people for their part in the attack against the AMIA:
Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani, President of Iran from 1989 to 1997.
Ali Fallahian, Iranian Minister of Intelligence from 1989 to 1997.
Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1981 to 1997.
Mohsen Rezai, commander of the Revolutionary Guard from 1993 to 1994.
Ahmad Vahidi, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard from 1993 to 1994.
Mohsen Rabbani (also known as Khokat Al Aslam Munan), Iranian Cultural Attaché in Argentina from March 3, 1994 to May 19, 1998.
Ahmad Reza Asghari, Third Secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires from 1991 to 1994.
Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, (also identified as Imad Fawaz Mughniyah, Mugniyah, Mugniya, Mughniya, Moughniyah, Mujniyah, Mughnie o Mughniye, and under known aliases as Haidar Khadr-Jadr-Husayn, Khodor-Jodr-Haidar Khodr, Hussein-Husein-Haidar-Aidar, Hader-, Abou Faour – Faur-, Jihad Fuad – Fouad -, Abou Faour J
ihad Fuad – Fouad -, Ahmad Mustafa Chamran –Shamran-, Fuad Abu Fahrur, Jihad Fouad Abu Faour, Ali Mahmoud Moughnie, Mahmoud Kutami, Hibba Rajayi and Mustafa Yassine), head of Hezbollah’s foreign services in 1994.
According to international law expert Alessandro Spinillo:
The evidence provided by Nisman seemed so credible that Interpol backed the petition formulated by Argentina and issued Interpol Red Notices against six of the eight Iranian suspects, despite fierce opposition from the Iranian office. It is worth noting that once they are issued these Red Notices are not merely for rubber stamping purposes, but rather prompt Interpol to review the petition and the incriminating evidence submitted in attachment.
In 2007, Interpol issued international arrest warrants, or “red notices” for six of those involved in the AMIA terrorist attack—Imad Fayez Mughniyah, Ali Fallahijan, Mohsen Rabbani, Ahmad Reza Asghari, Ahmad Vahidi and Mohsen Rezai.
Iran and Hezbollah furiously denied the charges. After Nisman’s report came out in 2006, Iran’s then-Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Hoseini declared it a fabrication “conducted within the framework of a Zionist plot.”
Memorandum: Truth Commission with Iran
Despite the mass of evidence presented by General Prosecutor Alberto Nisman and District Prosecutor Marcelo Martínez Burgos, on Jan. 27, 2013, the Argentinian Government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed a Memorandum of Understanding (that would constitute a “Truth Commission”) with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the issues related to the terrorist attack on the headquarters of the AMIA center in Buenos Aires.
The agreement provoked outrage inside Argentina. Editors at La Nación wrote:
The memorandum of understanding with the government of Iran endangers the investigation re-started after the dismissal of Judge Juan José Galeano from the AMIA bombing case which has managed to bring charges and international arrest warrants for various Iranian citizens. This makes the agreement entered into with this country all the more absurd, since it protects and shelters those persons implicated by the Argentine justice system as responsible for the worst terrorist attack ever experienced in the history of our country.
Jewish community organizations in Argentina expressed their “strong rejection” of this agreement. Legal researcher Alessandro Spinillo noted that the mandate of the “Truth Commission” which drafted the memorandum, would get away without actually bringing those involved to trial, satisfying its requirement instead with “recommendations on how to proceed with the case within the legal and regulatory framework of the parties.” In other words, the Commission would have no authority whatsoever to prosecute the crime and impose sanctions on its intellectual and material perpetrators. In addition, he explained:
…the Commission would also end up interfering inappropriately with the Argentine criminal process that was underway, leading to additional delays. According to the memorandum, the Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba and the Argentine Attorney General Alberto Nisman would have to interrogate the Iranian suspects in Teheran rather than in Buenos Aires, which was unacceptable at that stage of the proceedings where the suspects were not only sought for questioning within the framework of a preliminary investigation, but actually had warrants for their arrest and trial in Argentina. Canicoba and Nisman would be prevented from interrogating the suspects until the Commission was fully staffed and all of its members ready to meet in Teheran… Furthermore, the memorandum didn’t put into place any type of international control or observer body (whether of the UN or another type of institution) to supervise the fairness of the Commission’s proceedings and its independence.
Jewish community organizations filed a complaint against the truth commission accord with Iran, claiming it was designed to benefit Iran, rather than Argentina or the victims of the AMIA attack, but Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral rejected their complaint, and upheld the accord. On May 15, 2014, however, an Argentine federal appeals court overturned Canicoba Corral’s ruling and declared the accord with Iran unconstitutional, claiming that with it, the government was violating the separation of powers by creating a new, separate commission to investigate the 20-year old AMIA bombing while a judicial probe was in progress. The government vowed to appeal this ruling to Argentina’s Supreme Court.
In May 2013, Nisman released a 500-page document, including reports, evidence, and investigative records related to Iran’s activities in other countries in Latin America that corroborates and strengthens his 2006 report. It demonstrates Iran’s infiltration of large regions of LatinAmerica through the establishment of clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents to carry out terrorist attacks, both directly or through its proxy, Hezbollah, as part of the effort to “export the revolution”.
The U.S. Department of State’s annual terrorism reports have designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984, and, for the last two years, note a marked resurgence in its terrorist-related activities throughout the world. In 2013, the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security issued statements warning against Iran’s encroaching influence in the Western Hemisphere and the dangers it presents to American security. Yet, some counterterrorism experts are still questioning whether the current U.S. administration may be downplaying the threats from Iranian agents in Latin America, on America’s doorstep.
ed in the debate that is underway on how to approach Iran’s regime, whether through additional sanctions or polical rapprochement, would be well served to re-examine the AMIA case and its surrounding turmoil.
In Memory: The Victims of the AMIA Terrorist Attack
Source: Memoria Activa