Argentina's Jews Remain on Security Alert

By Leandro Prada | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT

(Correction: Fixes dates in 6th paragraph.)

Buenos Aires ( - Argentine Jewish organizations remain on high alert, following threats by the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hizballah to extend its armed conflict with Israel beyond the Middle East region.

Although the country is far from the affected region, "it is regrettable, but this is how Jewish organizations need to operate in Argentina," Luis Grynwald, chairman of the Argentine Mutual Aid Jewish Organization (AMIA) said in an interview.

"Even though it seems that the fundamentalist terrorism has other objectives, regrettably the idea of a new attack cannot be ruled out, and therefore the Jewish organizations have to operate with extreme security measures, with meter-high cement poles in their sidewalks, and always on guard," he said.

Hizballah has stepped up its threats against Israel since the assassination in Damascus last month of the group's terror chief, Imad Mughniyah. Israel has denied responsibility, but Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened "open war" against Israel and "the Zionists."

Argentina's Jewish population of some 185,000 is the world's seventh largest by country (after the U.S., Israel, France, Canada, Britain and Russia).

The community has been targeted by terrorists before. A 1994 bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires was blamed on Hizballah, acting in concert with the Iranian government. Eighty-five people were killed. Hizballah was blamed for a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in the city, which cost 29 lives.

Argentine prosecutors in 2006 issued arrest warrants for Mughniyah and senior Iranians in connection with the bombings.

Police departments here as well as the office of the Minister of Interior, who is in charge of homeland security, refused to comment about the security situation and measures taken.

Grynwald said despite the security concerns, "this does not mean that we live with fear. We lead our lives - personal and institutional - normally, only with the necessary precautions to prevent another tragedy like we had in 1994 from happening."

Grynwald said that relations between Argentina's Jewish and Muslim communities were good. Argentina's Muslim population is estimated at between 800,000 and one million.

"Fortunately, even in the worst moments following the 1994 attack, the relationship with the Islamic community has been excellent and more than friendly, which is proven by the numerous joint events held over these years, including cultural, religious, and social assistance events," he said.

"It would be absurd, childish and irrational to mistake the members of the Argentine Islamic community with fanatics of a terrorist regime that abhors life and democratic values, and instead see in them our enemies," Grynwald said.

"We are all Argentine, and for decades we have lived together in absolute peace. Fortunately, the attack did not hurt that relationship."

But Sheikh Seied Abdala Madani of the Argentine Islamic Association, had a different assessment of relations between the two communities.

"We cannot have a relationship with the Jews in this country because the leaders of that community constantly attack Islam, accusing our religion of fundamentalism and of promoting terrorism," he told Cybercast News Service.

Madani, an Argentine of Moroccan origin, complained that the Jewish community here had "celebrated" Mughniyah's death.

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