Argentina is usually a sideline spectator in international terrorist and military conflicts. The country was never involved in such affairs, excepting the Malvinas War and the war declaration to Nazi Germany two weeks before WWII ended, although that doesn’t really count.
But during the first half of the 90s, Argentina was in the international spotlight as two separate terrorist attacks shook the country to its very core: the 1992 Israeli embassy and the 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombings.
The latter has had a tremendous impact on every aspect of Argentine society. With 85 people dead and over 300 injured, it was the worst terrorist attack on our soil. The AMIA bombing case remains the largest unresolved conspiracy in Argentine history.
The 1992 attack has received little media attention when compared to the bombing that came two years later and is somewhat forgotten by society, but when it happened, the Israeli embassy bombing shook Argentina as well. It left 29 people dead-five of which were never identified-242 injured and — a point in common with the AMIA case– zero people behind bars.
On March 17th 1992 the embassy building located in Arroyo street 910/6 exploded at 14:47.
The explosion was felt throughout the city and its effects, devastating.
As the attacking directly affected a foreign delegation, the Supreme Court-presided by Chief Justice Ricardo Levene- took over the investigation.
HOW WAS THE ATTACK CARRIED OUT?
That was what everyone wanted to know. The first and strongest theory is that the explosives were smuggled inside the building and detonated from within. A part of the building was being restored at the time, and some thought that the explosives had been smuggled inside, hidden inside the construction materials.
The other theory claims a suicide bomber drove a Ford F-100 pick-up truck filled with explosives right next to the embassy and detonated them.
The following infographic shows the building and where the pick-up truck was supposedly parked before the explosion.
WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ATTACK?
Several groups were made responsible for the explosion while the smoke cloud hadn’t even dissipated from the sky, with then-President Carlos Menem accusing “Nazi groups” or even the carapintadas, an insurgent group that had risen from the Argentine Army during the 80s and early 90s, of staging the attack.
Initially, the investigation followed two leads that were suspected of having some certain degree of involvement: A group of Pakistani citizens and Hezbollah.
The Pakistani lead initially seemed to be the strongest one. Only three days after the bombing, four Pakistani nationals were taken into custody after a taxi driver said he had seen one of them walk in front of the embassy a few minutes before the explosion. All suspects were quickly released, however, after intelligence reports completely dismissed the belief that Pakistan had had something to do with it. All still remained under investigation in the case for several more years but the charges against them were eventually dismissed.
The latter involved Hezbollah, an extremist Middle-Eastern group that has strong ties with the Iranian government. It’s military sector, the Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the attack a few weeks after it happened.
DID THEY EVER FIND THE PERPETRATORS?
Well, no. At least not for now.
In 1997, after five years of stalled investigations, a special Supreme Court Secretariat led by the Court’s Criminal Secretary Esteban Canevari took over the case. No conclusions had been reached over how the attack was carried nor who did it.
But in 1999, the Court issued an Interlocutory Sentence and reached the conclusion that the pick-up truck theory was correct, since several reports determined there was a crater at the entrance gate. Also, they concluded that the Islamic Jihad was responsible for the attack and that it was coordinated by one of its leaders, Imad Mughniyah.
Their report also decided that Samuel Salman El Reda, a Colombian national married to an Argentine citizen, was the “local connection” in the attack. The Court issued international arrest warrants for both, but neither was taken in for questioning.
Despite the sentence, the case hardly moved since. In 2006, the Supreme Court issued a ruling exempting the investigation from expiring. However, after that, the files continued their dust-gathering activities.
One possible reason for this is that In 2010, Israeli ambassador Daniel Gazit to Argentina revealed to Perfil that his country had “already identified and taken care” of those responsible for the bombing:
“We know who was behind the embassy attack, who organized it, who gave the orders and who did it, and we have already taken care of them”.
According to him, Israel assassinated prime suspect Imad Mughniyeh, who was also on the FBI most wanted list. In 2008, Mughniyeh died in Damascus when the car he was travelling in exploded. Still, Gazit stated there were “some details that yet need to be solved”.
Despite his controversial statements, local investigators did not acknowledge Gazit’s words or actions and the case still remains open.
WHERE IS THE INVESTIGATION TODAY?
After sixteen years without any actual progress in the investigation, the heightened significance of the AMIA case since Nisman’s death dragged the embassy bombing back into the spotlight. When Cristina opened the legislative year on March 1st, she addressed this particular subject and called out the Supreme Court in front of Congress and criticized the lack of progress regarding the investigation.
Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti was sitting just few meters away.
Visibly upset, he had his chance to speak his mind two days later during the opening of the judicial year.
He contradicted the President, stating the case was res judicata (meaning case closed): “There was a sentence in 1999, previous to this Court’s current formation. It concluded that the Hezbollah group was responsible for the attack”.
Unfortunately for Lorenzetti, several justice system officials were quick to deny Lorenzetti’s statements. Augusto Belluscio, a former Justice, stated that the case couldn’t be res judicata as the Court exempted it from expiring in 2006.
WHERE IS THE NEW EMBASSY LOCATED?
Every March 17, friends and family of the victims gather at the small park that now stands where the embassy used to be. The new embassy is located in Avenida de Mayo 701, 10th floor.
This year, the official remembrance ceremony took place two days after the real anniversary, as the Israeli elections fell on the same day. While gathering to remember their loved ones, Israeli ambassador Dorit Shavit and Israeli agriculture minister Yair Shamir highlighted in their speeches the importance of solving the case. They also mentioned the AMIA attack and late prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who “tried to reach the truth and paid with his life”.
Cristina decided not to attend the ceremony stating that, to her, it was only right to remember the victims on the 17, not two days later.
On March 17, she met with family members of the victims of the attack and then announced on Twitter that she was ordering the declassification of the embassy and AMIA bombings investigations.
23 years after that fateful day, more questions than answers remain.