Tehran’s alleged culpability in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires has plagued bilateral relations for years. Investigators determined that the attack, which killed 85 people, was carried out by a Hezbollah bomber at Iran’s behest.
After a meeting on the sidelines of an African leaders’ summit in Ethiopia, the Iranian and Argentine foreign ministers announced an agreement to set up a commission chaired by an independent expert “of high moral and legal standing,” according to a statement released by the Argentine presidency.
Comprising jurists to be selected by the two countries – but not nationals of either – it will examine evidence accumulated by Argentina, question Iranians accused of involvement in the plot, and give recommendations on how the two countries’ authorities should proceed.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman called the agreement historic, saying it came after many years of struggling to achieve “truth and justice.”
This would be the first time officials from his country would be able to interrogate the five Iranians for whom Interpol in 2007 issued “red notices,” he told reporters in Addis Ababa.
The five men are Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi (who at the time of the bombing was commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ Qods Force special operations unit); Mohsen Rezai, secretary of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader, and a possible presidential candidate this year (he headed the IRGC in 1994); former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan; and two officials based at Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires at the time of the attack, Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Reza Asghari.
Interpol in 2007 also issued a red notice for a Lebanese national, Hezbollah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyah, who was later killed in a bomb blast in Syria.
Issuing a red notice is the nearest Interpol gets to producing an international arrest warrant. The organization says a red notice is “intended to help police identify or locate these individuals with a view to their arrest and extradition.”
As senior as the wanted Iranians are, Argentine investigators in fact also issued national arrest warrants for three others they believe were involved in the AMIA plot – former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing, Hadi Soleimanpour. After taking legal advice Interpol decided against issuing red notices for the three.
Iran has consistently denied any involvement in the AMIA bombing, or in a similar attack at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier, in which 29 people were killed. The two bombings were believed to be linked, and Argentina expelled Iranian diplomats in connection with both.
After years of investigations dogged by difficulties, a special prosecutor in 2006 accused Iran of ordering and facilitating the suicide truck bombing at the Jewish center, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of carrying it out.
The investigators’ report said the bombing decision “was made not by a small splinter group of extremely radical Islamic functionaries, but was instead a decision that was extensively discussed and was ultimately adopted by a consensus of the highest representatives of the Iranian government at the time.”
Iran refused to cooperate with Interpol, charged that “Jews” were behind an attempt to blacken Iran’s name, and demanded that Argentina arrest five citizens Tehran accused of “bribing Iran’s opponents outside the country to obtain false statements from them, and media propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” The five were a former interior minister, the former head of AMIA, a former judge and two prosecutors.
The Tehran Times said the AMIA bombing “has remained a mystery for 18 years, and no significant information has been provided by the Argentine government on the main cause of the incident and the real culprits.”
“The Argentine government only leveled false allegations against the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran that it could never prove,” it commented.
Argentina is home to Latin America’s largest Jewish community.