Published on The Bubble
Nisman’s death has captivated the public, giving Argentineans an unexpected reason to follow news during usually-dull January. But the case is just an offshoot of the AMIA bombing on July 18th, 1994. This Jewish center (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, or “Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina”) was blown up and still nobody knows who did it. So, what happened more than twenty years ago? These are the hypotheses, counterarguments and main players.
Before we start, what’s the history of the AMIA case?
What happened with the AMIA’s case has been commonly taken as emblematic of the judicial process in Argentina. Why? Because since the investigation started, not only has the case not been solved, but also the judges and prosecutors have been accused of covering up the truth. To give you an example: Juan José Galeano, the first judge on the case, was charged with bribery, destroying evidence, coercing witnesses, illegal wiretaps, and so on.
This is why a special district attorney´s office was created on 2005 by former President Néstor Kirchner, to refresh a stale investigation searching for answers (whatever his political interests were beneath this initiative is beyond the scope of this recap).
Now, let’s go to the hypotheses.
The “official” version
At 9:53 am, a white Renault Traffic van with 275 kilograms (606 lb.) of ammonium nitrate exploded in front of AMIA, destroying not only the Jewish institution but also several buildings close to it. Three days before the attack, the van was parked very close to the Medicine Faculty of Universidad de Buenos Aires. The employees of the parking lot testified in the trial that the Traffic had something different on its back, a fact that supports the theory that the explosives were already planted. On July 18th, the van was taken away from the parking lot by the leader of a terrorist cell, and delivered to a suicide bomber.
The main character of this story is Carlos Alberto Telleldín, accused of selling the Traffic. We’ll talk about him in the “local connection” hypothesis. The main problem this version has is that Argentinean and foreign specialists have concluded that the explosives where inside the building.
The Iran connection
This version is quite complicated (we’ll see why in a while) but is somehow the most accepted by media and public opinion: Terrorist group Hezbollah (based in Lebanon) bombed AMIA with support from Iran. The main character here is Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a young activist identified by a witness as the person who blew up the building in the infamous Traffic. This is why in 2006 Argentina accused the Iran government of the bombing.
The Iran connection has one problem, though: Hezbollah has never assumed responsibility for the attack. Berro has a plaque commemorating AMIA’s immolation in southern Lebanon, yes. But the terrorist organization usually proudly admits when they bomb something. Since their founding, every time they perform a terrorist attack they communicate it to the press by sending pictures of the place before being bombed as a proof.
In addition, Wikileaks cables have revealed that this version of the story was influenced (and financed) by Israel and United States Government. This is a problem, not only because what’s beneath this is the persistent war of interests between United States and Israel together against the Middle East, but also because this fact disproves the next hypothesis: the “Syrian track”.
Carlos Menem, behind a Syrian facade
The “Syrian track” is believed to be true by prominent journalists in Argentina like Horacio Verbitsky and Santiago O’ Donnell, or social scientists as Carlos Escudé. As a revenge for an unresolved commercial trade of former president Carlos Menem’s government with Syria, the Middle Eastern country blew up the AMIA building.
According to Wikileaks cables, this hypothesis was thrown out to strengthen the Iranian connection. And the United States and Israel were the main supporters of this move, because Iran was a nice enemy to build up.
How is this hypothesis supported? By a crucial name in the AMIA’s case: Carlos Telleldín. On July 10th, 1994, Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul, a Syrian businessman, called him. The same day Telleldín delivered the Traffic van that was found in the AMIA debris.
So how are Menem and Syria connected? First, remember “Menem” is a Syrian surname. In 1988, he traveled there (for “personal reasons”). But according to Oscar Spinoza Melo, the former Argentinean ambassador, Menem offered the Syrian President a trade: nuclear weapons for financial support for the presidential campaign. Menem won the 1989 elections, so one side of the deal was met. But the question of the weapons seemed to be forgotten by Menem.
The result? A series of terrorists attacks as political revenge, of wich AMIA was just one.
The other attacks? Connected to the Syrian hypothesis is also the death of Carlos Menem Jr., the son of the former president. Zulema Menem (his ex-wife) said that this episode (he died when a helicopter fell in 1995) was the “third terrorist attack” after the Israeli Embassy and AMIA.
Some mythology surrounds this version too: It is said that Arab revenge is taken in threes, each one closer to the victim. Carlitos Menem’s death would prove the Arabic saying.
The “local connection”
The idea is simple and it makes sense: Such terrorist attack could not have been done without local assistance.
The main characters here are the secret service of intelligence (formerly SIDE, now SI) the Buenos Aires Province Police and, again, Carlos Telleldín. How is this puzzle undone?
Telleldín was in the illegal business of dismantling cars. In 1996, he stated that he sold the Traffic to a group of “bonaerense” cops, and then they could have been the connection between the international terrorists and Argentina.
And the ex-SIDE head Hugo Anzorreguy stated that he bribed Telleldín with 400.000 USD in order to blame the cops for the bombing, and that this was done by “decision of the President [Carlos Menem]”.
Another move to clear away the investigation from the Syrian track.
Which hypothesis won?
The Iran connection won, clearly. Here’s why: Though the legal matters are very complex, the Memorandum signed on 2013 by Minister of Argentinean Foreign Relations Héctor Timerman and the Iranian Government is the actual benchmark. This memo is, in fact, the result of considering that Iran was the responsible party for the bombing and that Syria has nothing to do with it.
And because of this, Interpol asked for the capture of eight former Iranian officials to be arrested.
It is, also, the mother of all battles: Those against state say that it is ridiculous to negotiate those believed to be the culprits. Those in favor says it is the only way to revive a forgotten issue.
However, the real key to unlock the truth is just one: cover-ups. After all theories exposed, we certainly must point out that the history of the AMIA bombing is a history of concealment.
“The title of the first meeting was that we only knew two things: On March 17th, 1992 and July 18th, 1994 two bombs exploded”, wrote Jorge Lanata in Cortinas de Humo, an independent investigation of these two tragic events. It was published on November, 1994, more than 20 years ago.
Sadly, the quote remains true.