On July 18, 1994, a truck bomb went off outside the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds more. Since his appointment as Argentine Special Prosecutor, responsible for investigating this crime, Alberto Nisman has worked tirelessly to build a comprehensive case against the perpetrators of the attack. In 2006 Nisman released his findings that showed that Iran was responsible for planning the attack, which was carried out by Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic’s terror proxy. His efforts were rewarded shortly after, when Interpol issued “red notice” arrest warrants against six Hezbollah operatives.
Since 2007, however, there has been little progress in the quest for justice, and Nisman concluded that there has been a cover-up of this crime against humanity. Just last week, Nisman issued a report accusing Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of seeking to drop the criminal case against Iranian suspects in an attempt to foster closer economic ties between the two countries. Nisman pointed to a pending deal whereby Iranian oil would be exchanged for Argentinean grain.
Days after Nisman’s accusations against the president and the foreign minister, and mere hours before he was to testify against them before members of the legislature, Alberto Nisman was found dead in his home from a gunshot wound to the head.
Let’s take a closer look at Nisman’s case.
Iran Had Motive
Argentina, like many other Latin American countries, had close ties with Iran in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, Argentina played a prime role in helping Iran develop its nascent nuclear program by training Iranian nuclear physicists. In the early 1990s, then-President Carlos Menem, seeking to gain from the prosperity of the West, brought that program to an end, raising the ire of the Iranian regime.
A Pattern of Behavior
Iran sponsored numerous terror attacks during the early 1990s that were carried out by Hezbollah. In 1992, likely motivated by Argentina’s pivot away from Iran, Iran and Hezbollah conspired to explode a truck bomb outside Israel’s embassy in Argentina—which incidentally also blew up a church and a school—murdering 29 people and injuring over 200 others. In 1994, the very day after the AMIA bombing, a suicide bomber destroyed a small commuter plane flying over Panama, killing all 21 people on board, including 12 Jews. Later that same month, a car bomb was detonated outside the Israeli embassy in London, injuring 20.
Building His Case
After branding President Menem’s investigations “a national disgrace” before AJC leaders in 2004, former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner—deceased husband of the recently accused President Kirchner—appointed Alberto Nisman Special Prosecutor. While Nisman continued his investigation, no less a moral authority than Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio—the future Pope Francis—publicly pressed for justice in the AMIA case. But others were not happy with Nisman’s activities, and he received countless death threats while working on the case.
The Latest Twists
The investigation took an unexpected turn in 2013, when the legislature approved a deal put forth by the current President Kirchner to create a joint “truth commission” with Iran. At the time, AJC Executive Director David Harris said, “the idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht.” The deal was struck down by the Argentine judiciary in 2014.
Days ago, as he prepared to testify against President Kirchner and Foreign Minister Timerman, Nisman told a reporter that he feared for his life.
Alberto Nisman never got a chance to present his full findings against Kirchner and Timerman. While the cause of his death remains unclear, its circumstances are glaringly suspect. His death is of course a great personal tragedy for his family, but also a tragedy for the families of the 85 victims of the AMIA bombing, who have waited two long decades for justice. Indeed, it is a tragedy for the cause of truth and justice in Argentina.