Families of Bombing Victims Question Wanted Terrorist's Presence in Syria

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Syrian government promised to help Argentina get to the bottom of a 1994 terrorist bombing, yet it did nothing about the presence in Damascus of a wanted man accused of responsibility for that bombing, a representative of victims' families said.

Imad Mughniyah, the Hizballah arch-terrorist killed in a car bombing in the Syrian capital on Tuesday, was suspected of conspiring with Iran to bomb the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 people. Two years earlier, 29 people were killed in a blast at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, also blamed on Hizballah.

Following years of bungled inquiries and alleged cover-ups, an Argentinean special prosecutor in 2006 identified the AMIA suicide bomber as a Lebanese Hizballah member.

The prosecutor named and issued arrest warrants for nine suspects, including Mughniyah; and senior Iranians, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, a former leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and a former intelligence chief.

Interpol last year agreed to issue "red notices" for Mughniyah and five Iranians -- excluding Rafsanjani and Velayati on legal advice -- a move that effectively designated the six as most-wanted fugitives.

Argentina's stance sparked a diplomatic row between Tehran and Buenos Aires.

In Buenos Aires this week, the Justice Ministry said there would be no comment about Mughniyah's death.

In a statement reacting to the development, AMIA said it continued to hope that the other accused -- the five Iranians -- would be arrested and punished for their crimes. "We hope, as always, and after 14 years, that justice will be served," it said.

Sergio Burstein, a representative of Family and Friends of the Victims of the AMIA bombing, accused Syria, Iran and Lebanon of protecting the terrorists.

"Nobody said anything about Mughniyah being there, and that country [Syria] did not inform us of his presence there," the Agencia Judia de Noticas news agency quoted him as saying.

Burstein recalled that Syria's ambassador to Argentina, Riad al Sineh, promised several months ago to cooperate with legal proceedings, to "solve the attack and reach the truth."

However, he charged, the Syrian authorities "knew about the presence of this terrorist [Mughniyah] and did not tell Interpol."

"It is very difficult to work when there are countries who protect terrorists," he said. "We are not so much concerned about his death, but rather that those who could have handed him over did not do so."

The Egyptian newspaper Middle East Times said this week President Bashar Assad's government may find it awkward explaining the presence of Mughniyah in Damascus, given that he wanted by the U.S. and Interpol.

"If Damascus acknowledges his presence it justifies claims by the United States and Israel of Syria's involvement with terrorist organizations," said the Cairo-based daily.

Syria did not deny Mughniyah's presence in the country.

Syrian Interior Minister Brig.-Gen. Bassam Abdul-Majid confirmed Wednesday that "Lebanese combatant Imad Mughniyah" had been killed in what he called a "cowardly terrorist act," the official SANA news agency reported.

See also:
Iranians Say Jews Are Behind Bombing Allegations (Nov. 27, 2007)
Argentine Bombing Underscores Iran's Terrorist Role (Oct. 27, 2006)

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