Argentina asks host countries to arrest visiting Iranian minister over 1994 bombing

Buenos Aires notes Interpol warrant out for ex-senior Revolutionary Guards official Ahmed Vahidi, accused of masterminding AMIA Jewish center attack that killed 85 people

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi speaks during a press conference in Tehran on March 4, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
File: Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi speaks during a press conference in Tehran on March 4, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Argentina has asked Pakistan and Sri Lanka to arrest Iran’s interior minister over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The Iranian minister, Ahmad Vahidi, is part of a delegation from Tehran led by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi currently on a trip to the two countries.

Argentina’s statement Tuesday noted the international law enforcement agency Interpol’s arrest warrant for Vahidi. Interpol has had a red notice seeking his arrest at the request of Argentina since 2007 — a warrant that was renewed in 2022.

Argentina has previously stated that Vahidi, a former senior member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, is one of the key masterminds of the 1994 attack on the AMIA, and sought his extradition.

Vahidi also served as defense minister from 2009 to 2013, under then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On April 12, a court in Argentina placed blame on Iran for the 1994 bombing and for another bombing two years earlier against the Israeli embassy, which killed 29 people.

The aftermath of the bombing at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 1994. (AFP)

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah carried it out at Iran’s behest.

Prosecutors have charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack, though Tehran has denied any involvement.

The court also implicated Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA — the deadliest in Argentina’s history — a “crime against humanity.”

Tuesday’s statement from the foreign ministry said: “Argentina seeks the international arrest of those responsible for the AMIA attack of 1994, which killed 85 people, and who remain in their positions with total impunity.”

“One of them is Ahmad Vahidi, sought by Argentine justice as one of those responsible for the attack against AMIA,” said the statement, which was co-signed by the security ministry.

Raisi, Vahidi and other Iranian officials embarked on a three-day trip to Pakistan starting Monday, seeking to patch up frayed ties between the two countries. The delegation arrived in Sri Lanka on Wednesday for a brief state visit aimed at strengthening ties and opening a $514-million hydropower project.

Decades-long probe

In their ruling this month, the Argentine judges examined the geopolitical context at the time of the attacks and found they corresponded with foreign policy positions towards Iran under Argentina’s then-president Carlos Menem (who was the Argentine president from 1989 to 1999).

The attacks’ “origin lies mainly in the unilateral decision of the government — motivated by a change in our country’s foreign policy between late 1991 and mid-1992 — to cancel three contracts for the supply of nuclear equipment and technology concluded with Iran,” the court concluded.

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramani Rafsanjani waves as he registers his candidacy for the presidential election, May 11, 2013, before he was disqualified by the Guardian Council. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The judges put blame on Iran’s then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramani Rafsanjani, as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.

In 2006, Argentine courts requested the extradition of eight Iranians, including Rafsanjani and Vahidi.

In 2013, then-Argentine president Cristina Kirchner signed a memorandum with Iran under which Argentine prosecutors could question the suspects outside Argentina.

The Jewish community in Argentina expressed outrage and accused the president of orchestrating a cover-up.

Prosecutor Alberto Nisman opened an investigation in 2015 when Kirchner was in the final year of her second term.

Just before he was due to testify before Congress, Nisman was found dead with a gunshot to the head. The cause of death — suicide or murder — remains a mystery.

The Argentina justice system eventually dropped its probe of Kirchner.

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