FDD’s Long War Journal: Iran continues to protect AMIA bombing suspects

By Toby Dershowitz and Gardner Lange
(18 July 2017)

There should be no statute of limitations on terrorism cases. That’s why the murder of 85 Argentines who were at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) when it was bombed 23 years ago today should serve as a sobering reminder that even with the passage of time, those responsible must be held to account.

But once again, Iran is seeking to absolve itself of responsibility for its role in the deadliest attack on Argentine soil.

Five Interpol red notices, which call for international cooperation to arrest and extradite the suspects for aggravated homicide in connection with the bombing of the AMIA, are in force against Iranian suspects in the bombing. At the time of the bombing, Mohsen Rezai was commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohsen Rabbani was Iran’s Cultural Attaché in Buenos Aires, Ahmad Vahidi was Iran’s Defense Minister, Amhad Asghari was third secretary in Iran’s Embassy in Argentina and Ali Fallahian, was Iran’s Minister of Intelligence.

Last week, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Iran is “ready to work with Interpol to resolve a dispute” over the 1994 bombing of the AMIA, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. That is analogous to the arsonist volunteering to work with the police to find the source of the fire.

Today’s AMIA leadership understands Iran’s move for what it is: yet another Iranian maneuver aimed at lifting the red notices from those who have been wanted by Interpol since 2007.

statement from the AMIA rejects any negotiation with Iran: “The only formal cooperation [with Iran] that Argentina can accept is the appearance of those wanted by Interpol, and of the rest of the accused, before the [Argentine] judiciary.” AMIA president Agustin Zbar said the Iranian government has protected the accused, and denied the evidence put forth which links the red notice holders to the terrorist attack.

Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor for the case from 2004 through Jan. 2015 – when he was found dead in his apartment the day before he was to present to Argentina’s Congress his findings of a plan to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing – had provided Interpol with evidence of the Iranians’ roles in the attack.

In addition to links of the five red notice holders to the AMIA bombing, several have been linked to other terrorist attacks.

Germany maintains an international arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian in connection with the 1992 murder of four Kurdish opposition leaders at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. Following a trial which implicated Iran’s former minister of intelligence in the attack, 15 European countries (plus Australia and New Zealand) temporarily cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran.

According to US court documents, Mohsen Rabbani was a key contact for the men who plotted to bomb fuel lines at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2007. Had it not been foiled, the attack might have been deadlier than 9/11. The culprits, convicted of the plot, are serving life sentences in American jails. Rabbani continues his nefarious activities aimed at exporting Iran’s revolution throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Araghchi’s statement was not the only effort made by the Islamic Republic to free itself of culpability in the 1994 bombing.

In 2013, Iran and Argentina’s then-Cristina Kirchner government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly “investigate” the bombing. It was widely regarded as a scheme to whitewash the role of the red notice holders and accuse imaginary suspects, reportedly in exchange for favorable trade terms and perhaps other incentivesAn Argentine court found the MOU to be unconstitutional. The Kirchner government filed an appeal but the new Argentine government, headed by President Mauricio Macri since 2015, withdrew Kirchner’s appeal, effectively voiding implementation of the MOU. It’s noteworthy that Iran reportedly did not ratify the MOU.

In 2013, Interpol added a mitigating caveat onto the red notices after Kirchner’s foreign minister Hector Timerman and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, sent a letter to Interpol stating that the two countries would jointly investigate the charges in order to resolve the matter diplomatically. This was required by the MOU and was sent before the MOU was judged unconstitutional. No “joint investigation” has ever taken place.

While Interpol could not remove it at that time, the caveat — sent to airports worldwide — in effect relaxed the red notices, making it easier for the suspects to travel internationally.

When the scheme became known to the Macri government earlier this year, it protested to Interpol, but the international police organization refused to remove the caveat.

The Macri government has called on Interpol to maintain the red notices. As recently as May, Federal Judge Canicoba Corral officially requested they be renewed when they are up for review.

Interpol reviews red notices every 10 years and the AMIA red notices are up for review in Sept. 2017 at Interpol’s annual meeting in Beijing. Those concerned not only about long-awaited justice in Argentina but also about Iran’s malign behavior in their own backyards, should insist that Interpol not yield to Iran’s pressure to remove the AMIA red notices. They should ensure that these notices are renewed and strictly enforced — with no mitigating caveats — lest Iran not be held to account for its role in the murder of the 85 victims of the AMIA bombing and feel free to mount similar future attacks with impunity.

Toby Dershowitz is Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Gardner Lange is her research assistant.