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Investigation Finds Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian Involvement in 1994 Bombing of Argentine Jewish Community Center

Background

On July 18, 1994, a terrorist attack was mounted on the Jewish community's AMIA building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 85 and injuring over 250 people. The AMIA building was totally destroyed and heavy damage was caused to the surroundings. The attack was perpetrated by a suicide terrorist driving a car bomb containing hundreds of kilograms of explosives. A similar plan was used in the March 17, 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 people were killed and over 200 injured.

The Argentinian Intelligence Service recently completed a comprehensive report on the international aspects of the terrorist attack on the AMIA Building. The main conclusions of the report are as follows:

  • The Iranian Government instigated the attack. Its implementation was the responsibility of then-Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian.
  • Iranian Intelligence charged Hezbollah with mounting the attack.
  • Hezbollah's operational unit abroad led by Imad Mughniya perpetrated the attack. Syria was also in the know.

Hezbollah was assisted by an extensive network of collaborators inside Argentina. Most of them were in the Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay border triangle and in the Floresta neighborhood of Buenos Aires itself. These local collaborator networks were set up and nurtured by the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires and were at Hezbollah's disposal for the attack.

The Plan

The decision to mount another attack in Argentina was taken in August 1993, by Iran's Supreme National Security Council. Present at the meeting were spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei, then president Hashemi Rafsanjani, then Foreign Minister Velayati, then head of Intelligence and Security Affairs Mohamed Hijazi, and then Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian.

The decision was influenced by the successful March 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, by deteriorating relations between Argentina and Iran at the time, and by Hezbollah's operational potential in Argentina. The decision was passed on to Fallahian in the form of a fatwa on behalf of Khamenei.

The responsibility for planning the attack was placed on Fallahian. Fallahian determined that Hezbollah's attack apparatus abroad headed by Imad Mughniya would perpetrate the attack in the same way it had perpetrated the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

The decision was made to prepare a "target file" on the AMIA building. The date was determined according to a situation assessment of developments. The main pretexts for moving the attack on the AMIA building from theory to practice were both Iran's desire to avenge Argentina for downgrading bilateral relations and reneging on mainly strategic cooperation agreements, and its desire to hit Israeli and Jewish interest wherever they may be. It is also possible that Iran saw Israel and the Jews in Argentina as being behind the adverse developments in its relations with Argentina.

Hezbollah, in order to further its plans to attack the AMIA building, used an extensive network of collaborators - Lebanese expatriates in Argentina. The Lebanese community in the Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay border triangle was especially helpful to Hezbollah, as were those in the Floresta neighborhood of Buenos Aires. A smaller and compartmented group of expatriates provided logistic assistance to further the attack.

In this context, in the past few years, several similar networks of Hezbollah's attack apparatus abroad were exposed elsewhere in the world, including in South East Asia, and the Middle East. The use of collaborators emerged as Hezbollah's preferred method, which it still uses. This strategy is also largely reminiscent of local Al-Qaeda networks, which were widely exposed after 9/11.

Hezbollah's network of collaborators in Argentina was carefully built and nurtured by the Iranian Embassy there as early as the 1980's. Originally, this was designed to increase support for the Islamic revolution in Muslim communities all over, especially Shiite communities. There is a wealth of evidence in many countries that these collaborator networks were exploited for setting up dormant terrorist cells that could be called upon to assist in perpetration attacks like the ones in Argentina.

The relevant authorities in Iran worked to further this goal as follows:

  • The Foreign Ministry supplied diplomatic cover for the attack, and was used as a branch of the Intelligence Ministry in Argentina.
  • Specifically, as the date of the terrorist attack on the AMIA building approached, there was a sharp increase in Iranian diplomatic couriers visiting Argentina. This could give rise to suppositions that they were transferring equipment for the attack, or that their role as diplomatic couriers could have been cover for their true activity as Iranian intelligence ministry agents. Some of them stayed in Argentina for longer periods than usual for diplomatic couriers or possibly it was to mask Hezbollah's behind-the- scenes preparations for the attack at the time.

Iran's Islamic Guidance Ministry set up and nurtured a relationship with Muslim communities abroad where it officially focused on propaganda, education and cultural activities. In practice, however, it was a cover for Intelligence Ministry activity and it independently furthered the attack infrastructures. In the case of Argentina, the Ministry played a key role since its Buenos Aires representative, Mohsen Rabani, was instrumental in planning the local attack infrastructure.

Iran's revolutionary guard (IRGC), especially since the 1990's, worked together with the intelligence ministry to further terrorist infrastructures and attacks abroad according to the regime's interests. With regard to the AMIA building terrorist attack, the IRGC provided extensive support for Hezbollah with training and instruction, financial and logistic-infrastructure assistance.

Iran's intelligence Ministry was charged with implementing the attacks via Hezbollah. The evidence indicates that the Ministry carried out operational controls on the outline, assisted in procuring the explosives and perhaps in smuggling it into Argentina and transferring it to the perpetrators. The ministry also ran the other Iranian establishment stations in Argentina as needed to mount the attack.

It should be recalled that following the investigation by Judicial Authorities in Germany of the 1992 assassination of four Kurdish oppositionist leaders to the Tehran regime (the Mykonos Affair), the German court unequivocally ruled after the trial in 1997, that the terrorist act was instigated and implemented in a way largely reminiscent of the AMIA building attack.

When it was decided in 1993 to prepare the attack, all the elements involved in Iran and in Hezbollah were instructed to promote the attack: Intelligence collection was gathered more quickly, operational aspects were evaluated, a political plan of action was prepared to exploit the attack and to attenuate possible damage, and logistical preparations were made.

For example, in late 1993, Rabani, who was still serving in Argentina at the time, made several enquiries about purchasing a Renault-traffic commercial vehicle, which was used later to mount the attack. At the time, Rabani also traveled to Iran several times before returning there permanently in March 1994, before the attack.

It seems that preparations for the attack were already in an advanced staged by early summer of 1994. Another situation assessment by Iran and Hezbollah led to the decision to mount the attack. After the final preparations were made, the terrorist attack was perpetrated six weeks later.

The Attack

In June 1994, and in the days prior to the attack in mid-July, it was possible in retrospect to detect several signs indicating changes in the routine of those involved. For example, the Iranian intelligence station chief in Buenos Aires left Argentina suddenly and in a hurry, ten days before the attack. The Iranian Ambassadors in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay were also absent from their posts for the attack period.

Several days before the attack, the suicide attacker entered Argentina. He belonged to Hezbollah in Lebanon. His name was Ibrahim Hussein Berro. He entered Argentina through the border triangle accompanied by a Hezbollah collaborator in the area. Apparently, the car bomb was prepared somewhere in Buenos Aires at the same time. It is known that the car was parked in a public lot not far from the AMIA building some three days before the attack. In the days before the attack, many telephone calls were recorded between Iranians and Hezbollah collaborators in Argentina and Lebanon and Iran.

On July 18, 1994, a few hours before the attack, the suicide attacker called his family in Lebanon and said "he was going to be united with his brother" (his brother was killed in a car bomb against IDF forces in Lebanon in August 1989). At 09:53 of the same day, Berro drove the Renault-traffic loaded with hundreds of kilograms of explosives into the entrance of the AMIA building and detonated it.

On September 9, 1994, Hezbollah announced on Hezbollah's radio station 'Nur' in Lebanon, the death of one of it's men in action in South Lebanon. His name: Ibrahim Hussein Berro. Hezbollah chose this way to announce his death several months later, ostensibly unconnected with the attack on the AMIA building.

Hezbollah tries to depict itself as operation only in Lebanon, thereby avoiding in any way possible being identified as a terrorist organization, and certainly not one that operates internationally. It thusly avoids claiming responsibility for the terrorist attack in Buenos Aires, and only after a great delay and fabricating the circumstances, did it announce the death of its perpetrator.

The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism

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