AP: Iran’s top diplomat says the U.S. and Israel are pressuring Interpol to put five Iranians and one Lebanese on its most wanted list next week for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people. The Associated Press
By BILL CORMIER
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Iran’s top diplomat says the U.S. and Israel are pressuring Interpol to put five Iranians and one Lebanese on its most wanted list next week for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people.
But the lead prosecutor in Argentina’s worst terror attack says the case is not political. Prosecutors say they have enough evidence for Interpol’s 186-member general assembly to approve “red notices” for the six suspects during a meeting that opens Monday in Marrakech, Morocco.
There have been no convictions 13 years after an explosives-laden van leveled the seven-story Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Argentine prosecutors allege Iranian officials orchestrated the bombing and entrusted the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah to carry it out.
Mohsen Baharvand, Iran’s top diplomat in Argentina, insisted the Iranians were not involved in the attack and accused the United States and Israel of using the case as a political weapon against Iran.
“They try to bother Iran for many reasons,” Baharvand told The Associated Press “They try to politicize the technical organizations in every corner of the world against Iran.”
A red notice means a suspect is wanted for possible extradition. While it does not force countries to arrest or extradite suspects, people with red-notice status appear on Interpol’s equivalent of a most-wanted list.
The case poses one of the toughest challenges for the international police liaison group based in Lyon, France, which mostly deals with routine police requests.
In Marrakech, Interpol is expected to outline arguments from both Argentina and Iran. If a simple majority decides in Argentina’s favor, the notices will be issued. Iran has asked that the issue be delayed until next year, a request expected to be voted on first.
“Iran has been permanently trying to politicize this,” Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman said before flying to Marrakech. “We are going to Morocco with our truth and we are going to explain why these persons are being sought, as simple as that.”
The July 18, 1994 attack struck hard at Argentina’s 200,000-member Jewish community, Latin America’s largest. It came just two years after a bombing that shattered Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29.
Many here remain indignant that no one has been convicted for the community center blast. Several Argentine suspects civilians and former police officers accused of providing support to the bombers were cleared in a trial three years ago.
Victims’ relatives have complained for years that the investigation was bungled. Amid allegations he paid a key witness, the investigating judge on the case was removed and later impeached.
Now Argentine officials and Jewish community leaders hope Interpol can give a boost to the country’s beleaguered justice system.
“Today the world is preoccupied by terrorism,” said Aldo Donzis, president of the Delegation of Israeli-Argentine Associations. “There are ever-fewer countries who do not live without worry for (terrorists’) actions.”
Iran’s constitution does not allow citizens to be extradited in cases like the bombing, Baharvand said. Instead, Iranian officials have proposed that Argentina agree to legal and judicial cooperation that would let Tehran share information on the case.
Argentina has turned down the proposal.
Among the suspects wanted by Argentina are former Iranian intelligence chief Ali Fallahian, former leader of the elite Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezaei, and Hezbollah militant Imad Moughnieh, one of the world’s most sought-after terror suspects.
Moughnieh is wanted for his alleged role in the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s, and suicide attacks on the U.S. Embassy and a Marine base in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans. His whereabouts are unknown.
Interpol denied Argentina’s request for red notices for former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, as well as the country’s former foreign minister and ambassador to Buenos Aires.
“They should come and testify here if they say they are innocent,” said Adriana Resfield, whose 35-year-old sister was killed in the bombing. “So far they have refused to come and that raises even more suspicions.”
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Paris, France, contributed to this report.