Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
This article originally appeared in Argentine Jewish Press on July 18, 2011
This September, the world will commemorate the 10thanniversary of the infamous attacks of September 11, 2001, the day when the threat of international terrorism became a deadly reality to the United States and people around the globe.
In Argentina, of course, that day came nearly two decades earlier, when a car bomb exploded outside of the Jewish community’s 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.
The attacks of 9/11 and July 18 are different in many ways, of course, including the fact that the Buenos Aires attack singled out the Jewish community as a target, as opposed to the 9/11 attacks, which targeted the U.S. and the West. But there were similarities in motive and tactics. The Argentina attack offered a foretaste of what international terrorists with means, prominent backers and extremist goals are truly capable of.
One of the biggest differences, however, is how the attacks were treated in their aftermath.
The attacks of 9/11 have been thoroughly investigated. Commissions have made serious recommendations on how to prevent another such heinous event. The United States has waged a military campaign to root out extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden has been killed, and other significant figures in Al Qaeda have been captured or are on the run.
While there will never be complete closure for the families and friends of the victims of 9/11, one could argue that a measure of justice has been served. Through the multinational investigations that followed the attacks, which clearly identified those responsible, and through the efforts to locate and kill Al Qaeda terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan and safe havens of Pakistan, the wheels of justice have slowly turned.
In contrast, 17 years after the AMIA/DAIA attack, we still anxiously wait for any of the perpetrators to be brought to justice, or for an indication that the international community has learned the lessons of that fateful day.
The AMIA/DAIA case remains open in the courts and has little prospect of moving forward, its perpetrators eluding their Interpol warrants.
Much more is known today about the Iranian perpetrators of this terrorist attack. Nine people, including Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s Minister of Defense, were indicted in absentia for masterminding the attack and warrants were issued in Argentina for their arrests.
And yet, just last month, in spite of the Interpol warrant, Vahidi was invited to Bolivia, where he was to participate in high-level meetings to inaugurate a military school. When alarms were sounded by the Argentineans of Vahidi’s presence in Bolivia, he was quickly sent back to Teheran instead of turning him over to the authorities.
While Bolivian President Evo Morales and his cabinet ministers later issued public apologies to Argentina and the Jewish community, the fact is that Vahidi was in the country and permitted to leave. What hope can the victims and their families have if a neighboring country welcomes the perpetrator of a heinous terrorist attack without giving a second thought to turning him over to face justice in Argentina?
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. Iran’s motives for its operations in Latin America must continue to be questioned.
As Argentina commemorates the 17th anniversary of the AMIA/DAIA bombing, it is our hope that the world will recommit to seeking justice in this case and learning from the lessons of this attack. We owe it to the victims and their families to remember and speak out against this injustice so that no more lives are wasted in the name of terror.