25 Years Later, Prominent Iranians Wanted for Deadly Bombing Still Walk Free

By Patrick Goodenough | July 18, 2019 | 4:27 AM EDT

 

Rescue personnel search for survivors in the remains of the AMIA building on July 18, 1994. (Photo by Ali Burafi/AFP/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Twenty five years ago on Thursday, a 21-year-old Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist detonated a 600-pound ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb at a Jewish community center building in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds more.

Quarter of a century later, five Iranians identified by investigators as responsible for the deadliest terrorist attack ever in Latin America remain at large – and some hold prominent positions in the Iranian establishment.

One for years has been secretary of the regime’s Expediency Council, a body that advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Others include a former defense minister and a former intelligence minister. Two are former presidential candidates. One is president of a top military university, and another is reportedly Khamenei’s personal envoy on Latin America.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Buenos Aires for a western hemisphere counterterrorism ministerial, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing.

Speaking ahead of that trip Nathan Sales, acting undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, said Pompeo had recently emphasized that Iran is the world’s foremost terror sponsor.

“It was true in 1994 and it’s true now,” Sales told an event at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) on Friday. “The leaders in Tehran endorsed the [AMIA] attack. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, provided funding and logistical support. And Hezbollah, long the IRGC’s most capable proxy, carried out the operation.”

Sales put names to some of the victims, noting that they ranged in age from five (Sebastian Barreiro, who “died holding his mother’s hand as they walked in front of the building”) to 73 years old (Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament, a tailor).

“Iran has a responsibility to repudiate terrorism and cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in this investigation,” Sales said. “Twenty-five years later, we’re still waiting.”

In 2006, Argentine investigators accused eight senior Iranians and a Lebanese national of involvement in the suicide truck bombing.

Interpol agreed to issue “red notices” for six of the nine suspects. (On legal advice it declined to do so for former President Hashemi Rafsanjani – who has since died – former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and former Iranian ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour.)

A red notice is not an international arrest warrant, but a tool “intended to help police identify or locate these individuals with a view to their arrest and extradition,” according to Interpol.

Interpol says the suspects are wanted for the murder (aggravated due to the element of racial or religious hatred) of 85 people, and serious injuries and damage.

Mohsen Rezai, wanted in Argentina over the AMIA bombing, campaigns for Iran’s presidency in June 2013. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran denies the claims, accusing the U.S. and “Zionists” of being behind the allegations.

One of the six suspects, Lebanese national – and an FBI “most wanted” terrorist – Imad Mughniyah, was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in 2008. (Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif laid a wreath at his tomb in 2014.)

The five Iranians are:

--Mohsen Rezai, former IRGC chief and former presidential candidate, is secretary of the Expediency Council. He is frequently quoted in Iranian media, and met last year with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

--Ali Fallahijan, a former intelligence chief and former presidential candidate, was a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a top body of religious scholars, until 2016. He is also the subject of a Swiss arrest warrant relating to the 1990 assassination of a prominent Iranian dissident.

--Ahmad Vahidi, a former IRGC-Qods Force commander, went on to become defense minister, and is both a member of the Expediency Council and president of Iran’s Supreme National Defense University.

--Mohsen Rabbani was a senior regime official based at Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires at the time of the attack. He returned in the 1990s to Iran, where according to FDD testimony to Congress in 2017, he is Khamenei’s “personal representative to the region” and teaches at a university in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom “involved in the recruitment, indoctrination, and training of foreign converts to Shi’a Islam.”

--Ahmad Reza Asghari, a diplomat at the embassy in Buenos Aires who left the country weeks before the bombing. Argentine investigators described him as one of the most senior people in charge of the attack.

Argentina’s president vows to see justice done

Despite the red notices, Rezai visited Saudi Arabia in mid-2008 to attend a religious conference hosted by King Abdullah. Although Argentina drew attention to his presence there, the Saudis took no action.

Vahidi visited Bolivia in 2011 in his capacity as defense minister, sparking a diplomatic row between Bolivia and Argentina.

The AMIA bombing came two years after another terrorist attack in Buenos Aires – the March 17, 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy, which claimed the lives of 29 people and injured more than 200 others. Investigators believe the two bombings were linked.

Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly last September, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri demanded that Iran “cooperate with the Argentine authorities” in getting to the bottom of the atrocities, and called on the international community to avoid “sheltering or receiving” the suspects.

The Iranian foreign ministry responded to his speech by saying that Iran “has repeatedly condemned the AMIA bombing since it took place and has expressed sympathy with the families of its victims.”

Argentina’s special prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, led the probe that determined that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the bombing.

In 2015, Nisman publicly accused Argentina’s then-president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, of trying to shield the Iranian suspects in exchange for improved trade ties with Tehran. Kirchner denied the allegations.

Four days later – one day before Nisman was due to testify before Argentina’s Congress about the claims – his body was found in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head.

The killing remains unsolved, but Macri has pledged to see justice done.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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