Court: Argentina failed to prevent or properly probe 1994 Jewish center bombing

Top human rights court says Buenos Aires also tried to cover up and obstruct the investigation into the AMIA attack that killed 85 people

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 1994. (Ali Burafi/AFP)
Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 1994. (Ali Burafi/AFP)

San José, Costa Rica (AFP) — A top human rights court on Friday held the Argentine state responsible for not preventing, nor properly investigating, an attack on a Jewish center 30 years ago that left 85 people dead.

It also blamed the state for efforts to “cover up and obstruct the investigation,” robbing victims and their loved ones of justice.

On July 18, 1994, a truck laden with explosives drove into the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), a Jewish community center, and detonated, in the deadliest attack in the South American country’s history. The attack killed 85 people and injured more than 300.

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members.

Authorities have never found those responsible for the 1994 attack, nor has anyone claimed responsibility for it. However, Argentina and Israel have long suspected Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, of carrying it out at Tehran’s request.

In April, an Argentine court blamed Hezbollah for the attack, calling it a “crime against humanity” and labeling Iran a “terrorist state.”

Firemen walk through the debris of Israel’s Embassy following a terrorist attack in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 20, 1992. (AP/Don Rypka)

The court found that the attack on AMIA, and another on the Israeli embassy in 1992 that killed 29 people, were likely triggered when the government under then-Argentine president Carlos Menem canceled three contracts to supply Iran with nuclear equipment and technology.

Menem, who died in 2021 and was the president at the time of both attacks, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing, but ultimately acquitted.

His former intelligence chief, Hugo Anzorreguy, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing the probe.

After the ruling in April, Buenos Aires asked Interpol to arrest Iran’s interior minister Ahmad Vahidi, accusing him of masterminding the attack. Tehran denies any involvement.

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

On Thursday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica, found Argentina “responsible for not having adopted reasonable measures” to prevent the bombing.

“The state was aware of a situation of real and immediate risk for sites connected to the Jewish community and did not adopt reasonable measures” to ameliorate the danger, the judges concluded.

Through this failure, the state violated victims’ right to life and personal integrity, as well as principles of equality and non-discrimination, said the court.

After the attack, it added, the state failed in its duty to investigate “with due diligence and within a reasonable time,” also violating victims’ right to judicial protection.

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem, center right, at a courthouse in Buenos Aires as he stands trial for allegedly hampering the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing, February 28, 2019. (AP/Natacha Pisarenko)

‘Total impunity’

The initial investigation was botched and tainted by allegations of corruption.

Alberto Nisman, an Argentine-Jewish prosecutor who accused then-Argentine president Cristina Kirchner of orchestrating a cover-up in exchange for oil and trade benefits, was found dead in 2015 under mysterious circumstances as he was about to present his findings.

The Argentina justice system dropped its obstruction probe of Kirchner, but reopened it last year.

File photos of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (left), Buenos Aires, September 19, 2012, and of Argentina’s deceased public prosecutor Alberto Nisman (right), Buenos Aires, May 20, 2009. (Juan Mabromata/AFP)

The Inter-American court on Thursday ordered Argentina to remove all obstacles “which maintain total impunity in this case.”

The state should do everything necessary “to identify, judge and punish those responsible for the events of this case, their cover-up and, thus, be able to establish the truth of what happened, all within a reasonable time,” it said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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