25 years after AMIA bombing, Israeli & Argentinian envoys still hope for justice
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ToI editor urges justice too for murdered prosecutor Nisman

25 years after AMIA bombing, Israeli & Argentinian envoys still hope for justice

At Tel Aviv ADL event, Israel’s just-returned ambassador welcomes move in Argentinian parliament toward possible trial in absentia of Iranian suspects in blast that killed 85

People hold up pictures of those who died in the AMIA Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people as they commemorate the attack's 22nd anniversary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
People hold up pictures of those who died in the AMIA Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people as they commemorate the attack's 22nd anniversary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Argentina is moving ahead with legislation that could enable the prosecution in absentia of suspects in the 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombing, and is determined to keep seeking justice for the 85 fatalities in the attack, Israeli and Argentinian ambassadors said Wednesday night.

At an event marking the 25th anniversary of the July 18, 1994 bombing, the worst act of terrorism on Argentinian soil, Ilan Sztulman, who has just returned from a three-year term as Israel’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, noted approvingly that Argentinian lawmakers are now considering legislation to enable the trial in absentia of suspects in the bombing.

Sztulman was referring to a decision Tuesday by the Criminal Legislation Committee of Argentina’s Lower House to advance legislation providing for such trials to the house floor for further debate — a move backed by the ruling PRO party.

At the same event, organized by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) together with the Museum of the Jewish People (Beit Hatfutsot) in Tel Aviv, Argentina’s Ambassador to Israel Mariano Caucino reiterated his government’s determination to see justice in the case. He said that the failure to do so thus far was “partly our fault” and partly a consequence of the fact that suspects in the attack are from a country — Iran — that will not make them available for prosecution.

The aftermath of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires. (Newspaper La Nación (Argentina/Wikipedia Commons)

Caucino said the 1994 bombing, and the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier that killed 29 people, had marked “the end of innocence” for Argentina, which had hitherto regarded itself as far removed from the world’s conflicts.

The event, which was attended by relatives of some of the victims and several other ambassadors, included recollections from Rabbi Daniel Szlaifsztein, who was in the area of the blast on the day. Szlaifsztein led the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer for the victims.

Israel’s just-returned Ambassador to Argentina Ilan Sztulman, left, ToI editor David Horovitz, center, and Argentina’s Ambassador to Israel Mariano Caucino, speak at an ADL event marking 25 years since the AMIA bombing, at Tel Aviv’s Museum of the Jewish People, July 17, 2019 (Orit Shahar)

In a panel discussion hosted by The Times of Israel’s editor David Horovitz, both ambassadors highlighted the strong ties between Argentina and Israel, and the shared determination to combat terrorism and battle anti-Semitism. Sztulman said that all appropriate tools needed to be used in the battle against terror, and lamented that Iran is still allowed to maintain an embassy in Buenos Aires, but noted that at least it was not headed by an ambassador-level diplomat, but rather by a charge d’affaires.

The late Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman established that leading Iranian officials orchestrated the bombing of the multi-story AMIA building, which was carried out by a Hezbollah suicide bomber. Presented with Nisman’s evidence, the Interpol international police agency has issued at least nine “red notice” arrest warrants for Iranian and Hezbollah officials wanted in connection with the blast. (Argentina’s government moved closer to declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization on Wednesday, announcing the creation of an official terror blacklist.)

Argentina’s public prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, gives a news conference in Buenos Aires, May 20, 2009. (JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Horovitz, who recalled that he reported from Buenos Aires for The Jerusalem Report in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, and who later interviewed Nisman, noted that the prosecutor had defied death threats from Iran and “swore that he would not cease his work on the case until the perpetrators and orchestrators had been tried, convicted and jailed.”

In fact, Nisman was assassinated in 2015, hours before he had been set to speak to a congressional panel about his latest allegations, regarding then president Cristina Kirchner’s alleged efforts to cover up Iran’s role in the AMIA bombing.

In this May 25, 2019 file photo, presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez, left, and his running-mate, former President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, greet supporters during their kick-off campaign rally in Buenos Aires. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello, File)

“What seems particularly tragic about the death of Nisman, a determined seeker of justice,” said Horovitz, “is the fear that there will be nobody of comparable caliber and guts to ensure justice for him.”

Kirchner is again seeking office, as vice president, in Argentina’s October elections.

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