Discover more from BowTiedMara - Geoarbitrage & Mobility Assets
The Largest Attack in Latin America
An overview of the terrorist attacks in Argentina in the 1990s and potential repercussions of the current turmoil in the Middle East
Welcome Avatar! Israel might seem far away for Latin America, but in Argentina it is very close to home. Argentina is home to the biggest Jewish community outside of Israel after the United States and France, and has had its own share of terror stories with civilians being targeted. Today we’ll go over some of the history including some very suspicious cover ups, and potential threats in the near future.
The attacks carried out in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 are still very fresh, but internationally these attacks have faded from memory after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Before the Twin Towers, the attacks in Buenos Aires were some of the bigger ones internationally, and the 1994 bombing is still the biggest in Latin America to date.
As with most things in Argentina, culprits have walked free and no one was brought to justice to this date.
1992 - The Israeli Embassy Bombing
March 17, 1992, marked the first act of jihadist terrorism on Argentine soil. On that St. Patrick's Day, a van loaded with explosives rammed the headquarters of the Israeli embassy in the center of the city of Buenos Aires.
The result of the criminal attack was 22 casualties and more than 200 injured.
Two days later, the text of a statement from the “Islamic Jihad” group was sent to the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar and published by the Beirutian newspaper.
The name Islamic Jihad was a cover label used by the political-terrorist organization Hezbollah, which claimed responsibility for the blowing up of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in response and retaliation for the death of Imam Abbas Mussawi.
Hezbollah used that fantasy name when it was not convenient for it to claim responsibility for the attacks itself for political reasons.
The vehicle used was a Ford model F100 truck, and the investigation revealed that the car was acquired on February 24, 1992 at a used car sales location located on Avenida Juan B. Justo 7573/7, in the city of Buenos Aires.
The person who bought the truck did so under a false identity, paying a higher than market price with stacks of hundred dollar bills. Five of those banknotes featured common scripts used in Lebanese banks to identify authentic banknotes.
1994 - The AMIA Bombing
The next attack happened two years later in 1994, against the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), the main community center of the Argentine Jewish community. The total death toll reached 85, and it’s still the worst attack in Argentina’s history.
It is also one of the greatest examples of impunity. Almost 30 years after the attack, not a single one of the perpetrators has been arrested or a single suspect tried.
Guess who did end up in jail? The judge who handled the original case. More about that later.
According to Argentine justice system, the attack was carried out by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, of Lebanese origin, under orders from Iran, something that Iran has always denied.
The first to accuse Iran of being behind the attack was a former diplomat from that country named Manoucher Motamer, who would later be identified as an agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Shortly after the attack, Motamer accused officials at the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires of organizing it. The accusation was replicated by the US and Israeli governments, who pointed to Hezbollah as the material authors of the attack.
Hezbollah had already been considered responsible by the Argentine justice system for having been behind the car bomb attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.
The First AMIA Trial
The first "AMIA bombing trial" began in Buenos Aires in September 2001, and focused not on Hezbollah or Iran, but on the "local connection."
That trial ended in a scandal when it was revealed that the defendants were falsely accused and witnesses had been bought by the judge. The case was declared null and void and all were acquitted in 2004. The judge was later sentenced to jail
In 2019, Juan José Galeano was sentenced to six years in prison for having used state money to pay false witnesses to accuse a group of police officers of being the "local connection" to the attack.
The trial also condemned the main people responsible for the intelligence apparatus that operated when the attack occurred in 1994, and that instead of investigating what happened they tried to cover up what happened.
Even the president at the time, Carlos Menem (1989-99), was accused of diverting the investigation, allegedly demanding the judge not to investigate the so-called "Syrian connection," which involved a businessman close to his family (Menem was from Syrian descent). Menem was later absolved from this accusation.
Memen’s son would die in a helicopter crash under suspicious circumstances, one year after the AMIA bombing.
The “Memorandum of Understanding” between Iran and Argentina
After the annulment of the trial, then-president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) decided to create a special prosecutor's office to investigate what happened at the AMIA.
Kirchner put Alberto Nisman in charge of this investigation, who had been working as a prosecutor in the AMIA case since 1997.
In September 2009, the head of state (Kirchner’s wife Cristina) urged Iran to extradite the former officials questioned during a speech she gave before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
However, three years later, during her second term, the president surprised by announcing a new strategy to bring suspected Iranians to justice.
Fernández said she would sign a "memorandum of understanding" with Iran to try to advance the AMIA case. This pact, signed in January 2013 in Ethiopia, provided for the creation of a Truth Commission made up of five international jurists (two chosen by each country and a fifth agreed upon) to analyze the investigations into the attack.
It also stipulated that the Argentine Justice could interrogate the five defendants wanted by Interpol in Iran.
A month later, the Argentine Congress - with a Kirchnerist majority - approved the agreement, giving it the status of an international treaty.
However, this did not prevent the controversy that the memorandum generated: both the representative entities of the Jewish community and all the opposition parties rejected the agreement.
The Court agreed with these critics and, in May 2014, declared the memorandum unconstitutional, considering that the Argentine justice system was giving up its own jurisdiction to try the Iranians in an extrajudicial commission.
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman
At the beginning of 2015 it seemed like some things would finally come to light in the AMIA case.
Special prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused the president (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), the chancellor, Héctor Timerman, and other officials of having sought to cover up the Iranian perpetrators of the attack through the memorandum.
Nisman filed a judicial complaint, based on wiretaps carried out by Argentine intelligence agents, which stated that the pact with Iran sought to lift the Interpol red notices for the main Iranian suspects tied to the AMIA case. Iran later confirmed this was a part of the Memorandum and that they actually signed it (so it did enter into force).
According to special prosecutor Nisman, Argentina, which was going through an energy crisis, would have agreed to negotiate impunity for the Iranians in exchange for oil and other economic agreements.
Although Fernández and the rest of the accused always denied that this was true and assured that the pact did not contemplate eliminating Interpol's arrest warrants, and although the Argentine justice system originally dismissed Nisman's complaint, everything changed after January 18, 2015.
That day, prosecutor Nisman was found dead, shot in the head, 24 hours before he had to appear before Congress to show the evidence that supported his accusation.
Up until this day, his death (whether it was suicide, homicide or induced suicide) has not been fully solved.
Autist note: if you haven’t seen the Nisman series on Netflix and you’re interested in this story and the aftermath with Nisman either committing suicide or “getting suicided”, I highly recommend watching that. It goes over the events in chronological order and gives you a peek into the secret intelligence service in Argentina and how much they probably know, and will take with them without ever releasing it to the public.
Will justice ever prevail?
As you can tell by the smile on Jaime Stiuso’s face below, this time we can be fairly certain that no one will ever go to trial for the events around the two attacks.
There are many people in this AMIA and Nisman story who know more than they are willing to share, and no one knows exactly who is being protected or what they’re being protected from.
In recent years we have seen no significant advances in either the AMIA or the Nisman case, and by now this looks like a classic “let’s make sure it takes long enough so no one will ever go to jail” type of situation we have seen over and over in previous articles.
Why and how could this happen in Argentina? Argentina is the Latin American country with the largest Jewish community in the region, ranking fourth worldwide.
The fact that Argentina’s borders are a Swiss cheese doesn’t help either, combined with the fact that there is hardly any State surveillance within the country’s borders. The great extension of the (porous) Argentine borders and the ease of access for people and logistics to pass through them can all be considered as possible enablers.
The permissiveness of immigration laws regarding the entry and settlement of foreign citizens, combined with the lack of State oversight is a blessing (for those who do not want the state breathing down their necks and are looking for freedom) and a curse (because it potentially makes it easier for terrorists to plan attacks).
This week’s bomb threats at the Israeli and Unites States embassies in Buenos Aires brought the attacks almost 30 years ago back to the forefront. It’s a stark reminder that these things can happen here, even though Argentina is literally one of the safest places to be in a potential WWIII scenario.
Living in Villa Crespo which is a traditionally Jewish neighborhood (also jokingly called Villa Kreplach), there has definitely been an increased awareness around Jewish buildings after the Hamas attacks earlier this month, with more security around schools, synagogues, etc.
Is this Patagonian rabbit worried about new potential escalations in Argentina after the recent developments in Israel and Gaza? Not really. From a strategic standpoint there is probably less to gain in terms of media attention and shock by doing something here (por suerte), versus doing so in for example Europe or the United States.
Argentina is a neutral country by default, and the fact that the State is relatively absent weighs stronger for me than having a totalitarian Patriot Act type of control, which is all for show and in the end only provides a fake sense of security, while taking your freedoms away.
We all know how much worse the world has become after 9/11 in terms of freedom of mobility, invasive checks, and other cumbersome procedures at airports all in the name of “safety”.
The fact that 2 attacks happened and Argentina did not convert into a totalitarian TSA society despite these horrific events speaks volumes, in a good way.
See you in the Jungle, anon!
BowTiedMara - Geoarbitrage & Mobility Assets is a reader-supported publication. To support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.