The United States is backing a renewed Argentine effort to prosecute Iranian and Hezbollah agents accused of plotting a deadly 1994 attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
At a Washington forum Friday about the 25th anniversary of the attack, U.S. Counterterrorism Coordinator Nathan Sales joined Argentine Ambassador to the U.S. Fernando Oris de Roa to call for Iran to cooperate with Argentine authorities seeking justice for the victims.
In Latin America’s deadliest terrorist attack, a suicide car bomber struck the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) center in the Argentine capital, July 18, 1994, killing 85 people.
Argentine prosecutors have long said they believe Lebanese militant group Hezbollah carried out the attack on the order of its Iranian government patrons, but none of the suspected perpetrators have been apprehended to stand trial. Tehran has denied involvement.
“Impunity must end,” Sales told an audience at the Wilson Center event about the implications of the AMIA bombing for present-day counterterrorism policies. He said the Trump administration is working with Argentina and other Latin American nations to hold Iran and its proxy Hezbollah accountable.
“In this hemisphere, we’re actively working with our partners to counter Iranian and Hezbollah terrorism. We’re partnering with key multilateral players like the Organization of American States and the 15 member Caribbean Community, CARICOM,” Sales said. “We also have robust bilateral counterterrorism cooperation throughout the region, including with countries such as Argentina, Panama, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Colombia,” he added.
Sales said he aims to expand that cooperation next week, when he visits Buenos Aires as part of a U.S. delegation to a Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial meeting. He said the participating nations will discuss how to bolster their counterterrorism capabilities and eliminate security gaps, such as those that enable terrorists to travel and acquire funds.
In his remarks to the Wilson Center forum, Oris de Roa said the Argentine government is determined to interrogate and eventually convict all people involved in the AMIA bombing.
“Argentina continues to request that Iran cooperates with Argentine judicial authorities,” Oris de Roa said. “We ask countries that are friends of Argentina to join us in this (demand) and avoid receiving or sheltering under diplomatic immunity any of the accused for whom international arrest warrants have been issued or (for whom) red notices (akin to arrest warrants) have been circulated by Interpol.”
Five suspects targeted by the red notices have remained at large, living freely in Iran and traveling to 20 countries that are Interpol members, according to a research note by the Wilson Center and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which co-organized Friday’s event. Argentine authorities have been unable to extradite the suspects despite making requests to countries such as China and Russia, the note said.
In an interview with U.S. network CNN’s Spanish-language channel conducted this week, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he is preparing to get tougher with Hezbollah. In an online preview of the interview ahead of its Sunday broadcast, Macri said he is taking steps to declare Hezbollah’s armed forces to be a terrorist organization.
Washington has designated all of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
Argentine lawyer Miguel Bronfman, who leads AMIA’s legal team, welcomed reports that his government is beginning to act against Hezbollah.
“It’s a crucial measure that was long awaited,” Bronfman told VOA Persian at the Wilson Center forum. “It will help not only the investigations of the AMIA case, but also the prevention of future attacks and movements by Hezbollah,” he said. “And we hope other countries, especially Paraguay and Brazil, will follow Argentina’s initiative.”
But Bronfman said sanctioning only Hezbollah’s armed forces, as Macri suggested, would not be enough. He called for Argentina’s government to issue a terrorist declaration for all parts of the militant group, including those that engage in political and social welfare activities.