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Argentina court blames Iran for deadly 1994 bombing of Jewish center

Published 04/12/2024, 09:50 AM
Updated 04/12/2024, 02:06 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People hold up pictures of the victims of the AMIA Jewish center bombing during a ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 attack that left 85 dead in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian/File Photo

By Lucila Sigal and Lucinda Elliott

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -A new ruling by Argentina's highest criminal court has blamed Iran for a fatal 1994 attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, declaring it a "crime against humanity" in a decision that paves the way for victims to seek justice, according to court documents released late on Thursday.

The judges ruled that the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) - the deadliest of its kind in the country's history, with 85 people killed and hundreds wounded - was carried out by Hezbollah militants responding to "a political and strategic design" by Iran.

Representatives from Argentina's Jewish community said the court ruling was an "historic" one that opened the door for victims' relatives to bring lawsuits against the Islamic Republic.

Speaking to journalists on Friday in Buenos Aires, AMIA President Amos Linetzky called the decision "great news," but said it was "deplorable" how long it was taking for justice to be served.

"In 30 years of a case investigating the worst attack we have suffered in our territory, there have been no major developments," Linetzky said.

President Javier Milei, who has consistently pledged strong support for Israel and the Jewish community, celebrated the ruling, calling it in a statement a "significant step" that put an end to decades of "delays and cover-ups."

Argentina's judiciary has long maintained Iran was behind the attack, but joint investigations and Interpol arrest warrants have led nowhere. Tehran has denied involvement and refused to turn over suspects.

In the ruling, the judge argued for legal reforms so the accused suspects could be tried in absentia.

Prosecutors have charged top Iranian officials and members of Iran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah with ordering the bombing, as well as an attack in 1992 against the Israeli embassy in Argentina, which killed 22 people.

Argentine rabbi and academic Dr Fishel Szlajen, a former cultural director at AMIA, said there was little reason to celebrate.

© Reuters. A man walks past a banner reading

"A ruling is better than continued judicial silence... (but) after three decades when the intellectual and material authors have lived in freedom, aging peacefully, it is not cause for celebration," he said.

In 2013, Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding to create a truth commission to investigate the attack, but the agreement never came into force.

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