Bombing casts shadow over Argentine politics 23 years on

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


The bomb blast that ripped through a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and killed 85 people in 1994 continues to cause shock waves in Argentina's politics.

Twenty-three years after the bombing, two former presidents have been indicted, a slew of Iranian officials are accused, a campaigning prosecutor is dead from a bullet in the head, but no one has ever been charged in the original attack.

On Thursday, a prosecuting magistrate ordered the arrest of former president Cristina Kirchner and called on the Senate to begin procedures to strip her of parliamentary immunity.

- The bombing -

On July 18, 1994, a bomb destroyed the headquarters of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), leaving 85 dead and 300 people wounded.

It followed the bombing of Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier, which killed 29 people and wounded 200.

Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group is accused of the carrying out bombings at Iran's demand.

- Prosecutor dead -

Alberto Nisman was appointed special prosecutor by Kirchner's husband, then president Nestor Kirchner, and he quickly showed his investigation would be far-reaching.

On his request, British authorities in 2003 arrested Iran's former ambassador to Buenos Aires, Hadi Soleimanpour, but he was released on bail for lack of evidence.

In 2015, Nisman's body was found in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head, delivered at close range from a handgun found at his side.

Argentina's justice department has been unable to determine whether he died by suicide or murder, as his family maintains.

The timing, as well as the circumstances, was suspicious. Nisman was killed just days after directly accusing then president Cristina Kirchner and some of her top aides of covering up Iran's alleged involvement -- broadly the same charges on which her arrest was ordered Thursday.

He was to outline his case before Argentina's congress two days later.

- Two ex-presidents -

The investigation comprises several parallel cases that have dragged on for years and involve two former presidents.

Carlos Menem, who was president from 1989-1999, is under investigation for obstructing the inquiry, though the case against him is still at a preliminary stage.

Along with Menem, a former federal judge in charge of the case, two ex-prosecutors, a former police commissioner, former intelligence chief and a leading figure in the Jewish community are also facing charges.

Cristina Kirchner is being investigated for her role as president in signing a 2012 pact with Iran, agreeing that officials suspected of involvement in the bombing could be investigated in their own country and not brought to Argentina.

The prosecuting judge asserts that this was effectively a cover up to absolve Iran of blame in return for lucrative trade deals.

He has ordered the arrest of Kirchner, her former foreign minister Hector Timerman, and former top aide Carlos Zannini as well as other former officials.

All are charged with "treason against the Fatherland" for having signed the pact with Iran, though the 2012 memorandum never went into practice as it was not endorsed by the Iranian parliament.