The AMIA/DAIA Bombing: Terror in Argentina

On July 18, 1994, a suicide terrorist drove a car filled with hundreds of kilograms of explosives into the Jewish community’s AMIA/DAIA building in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eighty-five people were killed and hundreds were injured.

The now infamous AMIA/DAIA bombings represent the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America.

Due to the complexity of the case and the dynamics of the investigation, the AMIA/DAIA bombing investigation can be divided into three main areas: 1) Local Connection; 2) International Connection; and 3) Irregularities of the Case.

Local Connection

The Local Connection Case is the name the media gave to the investigation of Argentinean citizens who allegedly assisted in the logistics necessary to complete the attack. As a result of a first trial, five people were accused, but ultimately acquitted, of being facilitators in the attack. They were: Carlos Alberto Telleldín, Juan José Ribelli, Anastasio Leal, Raúl Ibarra and Mario Barreiro.

Additionally, the president at the time of the bombing, Carlos Menem, was investigated for the way he handled the investigation. In March 2012, Menem was ordered to stand trial for obstruction of justice for potentially destroying evidence that would have incriminated him.

International Connection

Since it began, the investigation has had a de facto separation between the national and international responsibility. Thus, the international aspect of the investigation continued to be examined even after the Local Connection Case was being tried in a prosecution unit, specially created for the investigation of the attack.

Shortly after the attack, the Argentinean Intelligence Service recognized that responsibility for the attack extended beyond Argentina’s borders. After further investigation the AIS issued a comprehensive report on the international aspects of the attack which draws the following conclusions:

  • Iranian officials were accused of participating in the attack. The Iranian Intelligence Minister at the time, Ali Fallahian, was responsible for its implementation.
  • Iranian Intelligence charged Hezbollah with mounting the attack.
  • Hezbollah's operational unit abroad, led by Imad Mughniya, perpetrated the attack.

As a result, in October 2006 the prosecution unit issued a legal opinion analyzing the case evidence collected in the summary and requested international assistance in apprehending and extraditing eight Iranians, including the president of Iran at the time of the attack.

In November 2006, Judge Canicoba Corral declared the attack against the AMIA/DAIA building a crime against humanity, issued the national and international arrest orders requested by the Prosecution and issued a formal request to Interpol for a Red Notice.

In June 2011, despite the Interpol Red Notice, the Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi visited Bolivia to participate in the inauguration of a military school. Argentinian authorities reacted immediately, notifying Bolivian officials that they had wanted to arrest him due to his involvement in the AMIA bombing. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca wrote a letter to Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman apologizing but Vahidi left the country without an arrest.

On May 29, 2013 Alberto Nisman, the General Prosecutor of the case involving the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina, issued a lengthy indictment accusing the Iranian regime of infiltrating several South American countries and building local intelligence gathering facilities tasked with fostering and executing terrorist attacks. The report claims that the planning for these attacks was carried out either directly by the Iranian government or its proxy, Hezbollah.

The Nisman report comes a few months after Argentina and Iran approved a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a joint “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA attack. ADL has joined with the Argentinian Jewish community to condemn the MOU, asserting that it undermines efforts to arrest and prosecute under Argentine law those responsible of this heinous attack.

Irregularities of the Investigation

Currently, the Federal Criminal Court, headed by Judge Ariel Lijo, is investigating the irregularities committed during the investigation carried out by former Judge Juan José Galeano.

The investigation focuses on a mishandled payment of $400,000 to an informant, Carlos Alberto Telleldín. Authorities became aware of the payment process after the payment was made.

During 2006, investigating Judge Lijo subpoenaed former Judge Galeano, former prosecutors, Telleldín and his lawyer, the president of DAIA at the time of attack, and others. Subsequently, and with different degrees of responsibility, he indicted most of them, a decision which is currently under appeal.

Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s Death

On January 18, 2015 Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s body was found in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head. Nisman’s death happened hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers against then President Cristina Kirchner and other officials for ignoring Iran’s involvement in exchange for commercial benefits for Argentina.

In March 2018, judicial authorities announced that Kirchner will face trial on charges she covered up regarding the role of Iranians in the bombing. Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio ruled that Kirchner and eleven other former officials and people close to her, including former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, will also be tried on charges of cover-up and abuse of power. The trial date has not been set. All are charged with treason for having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, though the 2012 memorandum never went into practice as it was not endorsed by the Iranian parliament. Kirchner, who was president in 2007-2015, denies any wrongdoing or involvement in any cover-up of the AMIA attack.  

While Nisman’s death was initially ruled a likely suicide, in June 2018 Judge Julian Ercolini from the Argentine federal appeals court confirmed that Nisman was murdered. Ercolini’s ruling also pointed to one suspect in the death: Diego Lagomarsino, an IT employee in Nisman’s office, who he said was a possible accessory to murder.  

Efforts by Argentina to Hold Iran and Hezbollah accountable

In July 2018, Argentine federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral requested from Russian and Chinese officials to arrest and extradite Ali Akbar Velayati who was visiting those countries. Velayati is an adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been implicated in ordering the bombing while he was Iran's Foreign Minister at the time of the attack. There has been an international arrest warrant against Velayati and seven other Iranian officials since 2006. Previous attempts by Argentina in 2016 to arrest Valeyati in Singapore and Malaysia were also unsuccessful. 

Another significant development occurred on July 12, 2018 - the Argentine Financial Information Unit ordered the freezing of assets of Hezbollah financiers in the Triple Frontier (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay), the place where the attack is believed to have originated. 

Source: Centro de Estudios Sociales, DAIA Informe sobre Antisemitismo en la Argentina 2005-2006-2007.