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Argentine court blames 'terrorist state' Iran for 1990s attacks

The 1994 assault on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish center has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request
— Buenos Aires (AFP)

An Argentine court has blamed Iran for two deadly attacks on Israeli targets in Buenos Aires three decades ago, declaring it a "terrorist state" in a ruling welcomed Friday by Israeli and Jewish organizations.

The ruling on Thursday, cited by press reports, said Iran had ordered a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy and another in 1994 on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center.

The court also implicated the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA -- the deadliest in Argentina's history -- a "crime against humanity."

"Hezbollah carried out an operation that responded to a political, ideological and revolutionary design under the mandate of a government, of a State," Carlos Mahiques, one of the three judges who wrote the decision, told Radio Con Vos.

In 1992, a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy left 29 dead. Two years later, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the AMIA Jewish community center and detonated, leaving 85 dead and more than 300 injured.

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request. Prosecutors have charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack, though Tehran has denied any involvement.

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members. It is also home to immigrant communities from the Middle East -- from Syria and Lebanon in particular.

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X he had spoken to his Argentine counterpart Diana Mondino after the ruling, asking that the South American country declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

"Iran is an enemy of Israel and Argentina and, together with Hezbollah, leads terrorist activity in South America and around the world. This decision against the Revolutionary Guard will be an important step in stopping Iranian aggression," he said.

The judges examined the geopolitical context at the time of the attacks and found they corresponded with foreign policy positions towards Iran under Argentina's then-president Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

The attacks' "origin lies mainly in the unilateral decision of the government -- motivated by a change in our country’s foreign policy between late 1991 and mid-1992 -- to cancel three contracts for the supply of nuclear equipment and technology concluded with Iran," the court concluded.

The judges ruled that the AMIA attack in 1994 was a crime against humanity, and put blame on Iran's then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani, as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.

- 'Impunity' -

A file photo dated March 17, 1992, in Buenos Aires shows the destruction of the Israeli embassy in Argentina after a massive bomb attack

The decision was welcomed by the president of the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), Jorge Knoblovits.

He told Radio Mitre the ruling "is very important because it enables the victims to go to the International Criminal Court."

The AMIA welcomed the ruling but lamented more than three decades of "impunity" as a "shameful mark in Argentine history."

Argentina's former president Carlos Menem, who died in 2021, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing but ultimately acquitted.

His former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing an investigation into the bombing.

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members

He was among some dozen defendants who faced a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in the case. They included the former judge who led the investigation into the attack, Juan Jose Galeano, who was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.

Thursday's judgment came as President Javier Milei's close ties to Judaism and Israel -- and his plans to move the Argentine embassy to Jerusalem -- sparked fears the country's Jewish community could again be vulnerable to attack.

"We are already on the radar," Milei said this week when asked about the risk. "The question is whether we are cowards or whether we stand on the side of good," he added.