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Op-Ed

AMIA at 15: The Search for Justice Goes On

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared in on July 8, 2009

Fifteen years ago, the Jewish community of Argentina was heinously attacked when a car bomb exploded outside of the AMIA/DAIA building in Buenos Aires.  It was the single deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Argentina, the home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America.

The horrific attack of July 18, 1994, which left 85 Argentinean citizens dead and hundreds more injured, sent shock waves around the world and through the global Jewish community.  Yet, as we mark the 15th anniversary of the bombing this month, the victims and their families are still anxiously waiting for the perpetrators of the attack to be brought to justice.

The search for justice goes on.  As time passes, we can't help but ask if the families of the victims will ever have closure. The answer: Who knows?

Much more is known today about the perpetrators of this terrorist attack than was known even five years ago.  We now know that the AMIA attack was orchestrated by the Iranian regime through international proxies – namely, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah – to exact a price on Argentina while targeting an identifiably Jewish institution.

While the perpetrators have yet to be tried in court, some progress has been made in the investigation due to the commitment of the current government of Argentina and the diligence of prosecutor Alberto Nisman. For example, nine people, including former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were indicted in absentia and warrants were issued in Argentina for their arrests.  Additionally, Interpol did not cave in to political pressure in 2007 when Iran sought to prevent the issuance of red alerts for six of the nine perpetrators who allegedly masterminded and implemented the attack.

Yet even with these important steps forward in the investigation it is hard to feel that we are closer to achieving true justice.  Some of the accused are still living free inside their safe-haven countries and the likelihood of prosecuting them in an Argentine or international court seems nowhere near the horizon.  In fact, two of the perpetrators, Rafsanjani and Mohsen Rezai traveled to Saudi Arabia in June 2008 and no attempt was made to capture them.

While an unequivocal attack on Jews, the AMIA bombing was also orchestrated and planned to attack Western democracy and the values and ideals it stands for.  As prosecutor Nisman has acknowledged, the country was likely chosen as a target to send a message to the government of Argentina for its suspension a nuclear technology transfer contract with Tehran a few months earlier.  By striking a Jewish landmark in Buenos Aires, the Iranian-backed fundamentalists were able to kill two birds with one stone.

In many ways, the AMIA/DAIA attack in 1994 and the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires were precursors to Iranian attempts to penetrate Latin America. Unfortunately, under the guise of "commerce" Iran has succeeded in expanding its dealings with Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.  Anecdotally, some Iranian embassies currently operating in the region are expanding their facilities, as was the case in the early 1990s in Buenos Aires, when Iranian nationals were arriving at the Iranian Embassy to work in black-box type operations.

The Iranian presence in Latin America became even more troubling with the ascension of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose repeated calls for the demise of Israel and statements denying the Holocaust have shown the true colors of the Iranian regime.  His fraudulent re-election and the repression that followed it have now shed light on the dangers of this regime and what it may be capable of if it ultimately realizes its quest for a nuclear weapon.

Iran's motives for its operations in Latin America must continue to be questioned.  As we commemorate this 15th anniversary of the AMIA/DAIA attack, we hope that the world understands even if full closure is not attainable because the Iranian masterminds will manage to evade the criminal courts, we owe it to the victims and their families to speak out against this injustice so that no more lives are wasted in the name of terror.

The AMIA attack set the stage for a new era of borderless terrorism, an era in which Jews and Westerners would be repeatedly targeted across the world – from Mumbai to Mombasa – in attacks aimed at hotels, synagogues and other public places where mass casualties would result. 

The fact that this type of terrorist attack has been emulated so many times since in so many other countries – often with Jews as the intended victims – offers another perspective on why the quest for justice in the AMIA/DAIA case remains so vitally important.

The message must be sent to those who would carry out such unconscionable terrorist attacks that they will have no peace until justice is served.

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