(CNSNews.com) – A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, accusing her of “treason” for allegedly covering up Iran’s suspected responsibility for the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history.
Judge Claudio Bonadio formally asked the Senate to remove the immunity that the 64-year-old former two-term president now enjoys as a senator, so that she can be brought to trial.
The political explosive ruling – which may ultimately help to shed more light on Iran’s global terrorism – also affects several other accused senior figures, including former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and Carlos Zannini, the former president’s legal and technical secretary and a close aide.
The judge ruled that Kirchner and others had abused their powers, betrayed the national interest and those of the people affected by the 1994 bombing of the AMIA (Argentine-Israel Mutual Association) Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Eighty-five people were killed in the AMIA bombing, which came two years after a similar attack – also involving an explosives-laden truck driven by a suicide bomber – on the Israeli Embassy in the city left 29 people dead.
Investigators blamed both on Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. In 2007, Argentina asked Interpol to issue “red notices” – the closest tool the organization has to international arrest warrants – for eight senior Iranian officials and a top Hezbollah terrorist suspected of involvement in the 1994 attack. Interpol agreed to do so in six of nine requests.
In 2013, however, Kirchner (president from 2007-2015) reached a controversial agreement with Iran to establish a joint “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA bombing. It was signed in January of that year by Timerman and his then-Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi.
Jewish organizations in Argentina, including AMIA itself, opposed the agreement, fearing it would jeopardize the investigation and let the perpetrators off the hook. The U.S. State Department also voiced skepticism about the arrangement.
Judge Bonadio said the maneuver aimed at normalizing relations with Iran at the cost of impunity for the Iranian suspects.
Argentina’s suspect list reads like a who’s who of the Iranian regime at the time of the bombing: President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Ahmed Vahidi, IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, and two officials based at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Reza Asghari.
The Lebanese man was Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah.
A key figure at the center of the AMIA saga was Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor whose investigations determined that Iran had masterminded the bombing and tasked Hezbollah to carry it out. Nisman opposed Kirchner’s “truth commission” deal with Tehran.
In early 2015, Nisman publicly charged that Kirchner and other officials were trying to shield the Iranian terror suspects in exchange for improved trade ties. 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 death was initially ruled a likely suicide, but a police agency inquiry concluded in November that the 51-year-old was murdered.
Suspects in ‘crime against humanity’ still at large
Responding to Thursday’s court ruling, AMIA president Agustín Zbar recalled that the organization had from the outset opposed Kirchner’s deal with Iran.
“Twenty-three years have passed and we have gone through a long and arduous path to demonstrate, with ample evidence, the intellectual and material responsibility of citizens and officials of the Iranian state and of the terrorist group Hezbollah, in the attack,” he said.
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“The search for justice is our priority concern since July 18, 1994 and we will never give up until all those guilty of that crime against humanity are convicted and imprisoned,” Zbar added.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly last September, Argentina's Vice President Gabriela Michetti said her country does “not want another 20 years to pass without justice being done” for the AMIA victims.
“This is why we call on the international community to support us in our request to the Islamic Republic of Iran, for cooperation in clarifying and shedding light on this terrorist act.”
The investigation into the bombing, she said, “calls for the appearance of the accused at a hearing.”
Iran attributes the accusations to a “Zionist conspiracy.”
Most of the suspects wanted by Argentina remain at large and some still hold influential positions in Tehran.
Two are dead: Rafsanjani died last January and Hezbollah terrorist Mughniyah – who was on the FBI’s most wanted list for other terrorist crimes – was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in 2008.
Velayati serves as foreign policy advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rezai has run for president twice and is currently secretary of the Expediency Council, a body that advises Khamenei.
Vahidi was then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defense minister from 2009-2013 and is now president of the Supreme National Defense University. Vahidi and Velayati are also both members of the Expediency Council.
All of the accused are still the subject of Interpol “red notices” except for Velayati and Soleimanpour. The police organization chose not to issue notices for them (and Rafsanjani), on the advice of its legal affairs office.