Argentina acts against Hezbollah, blamed for terror attacks

Mayra Pertossi
Associated Press

Buenos Aires, Argentina – Argentina’s government on Thursday branded Hezbollah a terrorist organization and froze its assets, 25 years to the day after a bombing blamed on the Lebanese-based group destroyed a Jewish community center in Argentina’s capital, killing 85 people.

People hold up pictures of people who died during the bombing at the AMIA Jewish center that killed 85 people on the 25th anniversary of the attack in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, July 18, 2019.

The nation’s Financial Information Unit took the action a day after President Mauricio Macri’s government created a list of terrorist organizations to help coordinate actions with other nations and as the nation held memorial services for victims of the attack, for which no one has been convicted.

The unit noted that Hezbollah has been accused of responsibility for a 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina that killed 29 people, as well as the 1994 attack on the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. Hundreds were injured in both bombings.

“At the present time, Hezbollah continues to represent a current and active threat to national security and the integrity of the financial, economic order of the Argentine Republic,” the unit said.

It’s not clear how much impact the ruling will have or how many assets Hezbollah might have in Argentina. The group already has been put on terrorism lists by the U.S., the European Union and several other nations.

At midmorning Thursday, sirens resounded across the Argentine capital to honor the 85 people who died the nation’s worst terrorist attack.

Argentine prosecutors blame Iranian officials for plotting the attack and say Hezbollah operatives carried it out. But nobody has been convicted despite years of tangled investigations. Iran has refused to turn over the former officials and ex-diplomats who now face charges, and denies any involvement.

The memorial service began with a moment of silence, followed by a reading of the names of each of the 85 victims.

“How is it possible that 25 years later there has not been a single responsible person imprisoned for this crime against humanity?” asked Ariel Eichbaum, president of the association, which is known by its Spanish initials, AMIA.

“We continue to have questions to which there are still no answers. Twenty-five years have passed and the wound remains open, a wound that cannot be closed without justice,” he added.

The investigation into the attack was plagued with irregularities from the start. A court in 2004 absolves about 20 people who initially had been accused of being the “local connection” for the attack and called for an investigation into a possible coverup by the government of President Carlos Menem, who had left office in 1999.

A court this year cleared Menem of charges he had interfered to protect a friend implicated in the case. But the initial judge in the case, two prosecutors and a former intelligence police chief were found guilty of embezzlement and cover-up in the case.

Another former president, Cristina Fernández, faces trial along with 11 other people on separate charges of cover-up based on a deal with Iran that would have let a special international truth commission question those accused in the case, but with no guarantee they would be arrested. She denies any wrongdoing.

Special prosecutor Alberto Nisman originally brought such charges in 2015, but was found dead of a gunshot wound in his apartment a few days later. No one has been convicted in that case.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was flying to Argentina to attend another memorial service on Friday as well as an international counterterrorism conference.

Associated Press journalist Natacha Pisarenko contributed to this report.