Iranian Ex-Leader Sought in Argentina

By Oscar Serrat
Associated Press
Thursday, October 26, 2006

BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 25 -- Argentine prosecutors asked a federal judge on Wednesday to order the arrest of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and seven other people in the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish community center here that killed 85 people.

The decision to attack the center "was undertaken in 1993 by the highest authorities of the then-government of Iran," prosecutor Alberto Nisman said at a news conference. He said the actual attack was entrusted to the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.

The detonation of an explosives-laden vehicle near the Jewish center in Buenos Aires was among the worst terrorist attacks ever on Argentine soil. In addition to killing 85 people, the attack injured more than 200.

Iran's government has vehemently denied any involvement in the bombing, following repeated accusations by Jewish community leaders and others here. Iranian authorities in Buenos Aires declined to comment.

Prosecutors urged the judge to seek international and national arrest orders for Rafsanjani, who was Iran's president from 1989 to 1997. They also asked the judge to detain former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati.

In addition, they urged the arrest of two former commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, two former Iranian diplomats and a former Hezbollah security chief for external affairs.

Nisman and fellow prosecutor Marcelo Martínez Burgos said they suspected that Hezbollah undertook activities outside Lebanon only "under orders directly emanating from the regime in Tehran."

Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral made no public comments after the news conference. Under Argentine law, the judge is allowed an indefinite period to accept or reject such recommendations.

The two prosecutors head a special investigative unit probing the attack on the Jewish center, since rebuilt into a heavily guarded fortress-like compound.

Nisman announced in November 2005 that investigators believed a 21-year-old Lebanese member of Hezbollah was the suicide bomber.

The attack on the seven-story center, a symbol of Argentina's more than 200,000-strong Jewish population, was the second of two attacks against Jews in Argentina during the 1990s.

In March 1992, a blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Twenty-nine people died in that attack, which has also been blamed on Hezbollah.

Some people here speculated that the embassy bombing was inspired by Argentina's support for the U.S.-led coalition that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Others said Argentina's Jewish community, one of the largest in Latin America, represented an obvious target for Israel's opponents.

Although Jewish community leaders and others have said they suspect the involvement of Middle East terrorists in the 1994 attack, lack of progress in tracking down the organizers has made families of the victims increasingly bitter. In 2004, about a dozen former police officers and an accused trafficker in stolen vehicles were acquitted of charges that they had formed a "local connection" in the bombing.

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