Department of State Coordinator for Counterterrorism Speaks About the AMIA Attack and U.S. Efforts to Combat Terrorism in the Western Hemisphere

Washington, D.C. – FDD and the Wilson Center for Scholars hosted a timely conversation to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Among the event’s esteemed speakers was Ambassador Nathan Sales, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State.

Ambassador Sales delivered keynote remarks on the significance of the attack and continuing concerns regarding terrorist financing in the Western Hemisphere:

“Next Thursday, July 18, will mark 25 years since the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina – or AMIA – was bombed in Buenos Aires.  I’m here today to speak about the victims and to honor their memory.  I’m also here to speak about the perpetrators, and to tell you what we’re doing to prevent future atrocities like this.”

He continued, “The victims of this horrific attack – 85 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured – were both native-born Argentines and immigrants.  They were Catholic and Jewish, religious and secular.  They were intellectuals and workers, doctors and janitors, lawyers and students.  They had names.  They had families, they had children, they had friends.  They had plans for the future, which for them never came. The youngest AMIA victim, Sebastian Barreiro, was five – he died holding his mother’s hand as they walked in front of the building.  The oldest victim, Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament, was 73 and a tailor. Let us remember Martin Figuero.  He was a contractor.  He planned to use the money he made working on the AMIA building to take his family on vacation.  He left behind a wife and six children. Twenty-one year old Paola Czyzewski was a law student.  She was visiting the AMIA for the first time, to meet up with her mother. Fifty-six year-old Jacobo Chemanuel was buried in the rubble for 36 hours alongside Martin Cano.  Jacobo encouraged Martin to hold on, despite the incredible pain he felt.  Martin survived; Jacobo did not. The body of 19-year-old Augusto Daniel Jesus was not identified until 2016, the last victim to be named.  His mother, Maria Lourdes Jesus, also died in the blast. Let us pause for a moment of silence as we remember all the victims of this cowardly attack.”

Sales noted that the bombing was carried out by the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, with Iranian support and direction.  “In attacking the AMIA, these terrorists targeted not just Argentina, but all of us who call the Western Hemisphere home.  We will never forget this attack.  And every day we work to ensure that no further such attacks occur.”

July 18 marks another bloody and tragic day for which Hezbollah is responsible. On that day in 2012, a group of Israelis boarded a tour bus convoy when an explosion destroyed one of the seven buses, killing five Israelis, their Bulgarian bus driver and wounded over thirty more. A forensic investigation determined that a Hezbollah operative placed the bomb in the bus’s luggage compartment and was remotely detonated. “The attack took place on July 18th. So Argentina and Bulgaria are joined together in sharing a bloody anniversary,” Sales said.

Sales described some of the things the Administration is doing to crack down on Hezbollah and other Iran-backed terrorists, including designating the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. “The U.S. government now formally acknowledges the reality that the IRGC doesn’t just finance and promote terrorism.  It actively engages in terrorist activity as a tool of statecraft,” he said.

Beyond terror operations, Hezbollah is involved in a nexus of criminal activity, including money laundering and narco-terrorism. Most notably, a Hezbollah supporter named Ali Farhat was extradited from Paraguay to Florida to face federal money laundering charges. To counter Hezbollah, Sales said that the U.S. is, “using law enforcement and financial tools to disrupt its networks.  We’re targeting its financial resources and squeezing it out of the international financial system.  We’re hitting its wallet and will deny it the funds it needs to commit terrorism around the world.  The U.S. government has designated over 150 entities and individuals tied to Hezbollah, including more than 50 since last year.”

Sales discussed the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program’s recent offered of up to $10 million for information leading to the disruption of Hezbollah’s financial mechanisms. He said, “This was the first time we’ve issued an RFJ reward focused solely on Hezbollah financing.  It was an important step in our maximum pressure campaign against Tehran and its terrorist proxies.”

In 2017, the State Department issued RFJ offers for two Hezbollah leaders with American blood on their hands – Talal Hamiyah and Fuad Shukr.  Shukr is a senior military commander who played a central role in Hezbollah’s 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American service members.  Hamiyah is the head of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization – their global terrorist arm – which is responsible for the group’s long campaign of terrorism around the world.  These were the first RFJs targeting Hezbollah in more than a decade.

The State Department has also sanctioned Jawad Nasrallah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.  Jawad Nasrallah is the son of Hezbollah’s Secretary General and a Hezbollah leader in his own right.  And in recent weeks, the U.S. has designated Hezbollah’s security and intelligence chiefs, along with two Hezbollah members of the Lebanese parliament.

“This Administration is using every tool at our disposal to dismantle Hezbollah’s global financing network, including its participation in drug trafficking and other crimes.”

Read Ambassador Sales’ full remarks here.