Sunday, June 1, 2008

Probe of Cover-Up After 1994 Bombing Casts Suspicion on Argentine Ex-President Menem

from the Forward

A prosecutor in Argentina is seeking the arrest of the country’s former president and several of his aides on suspicions that they were involved in a cover-up after the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina.

Alberto Nisman, a longtime prosecutor on the case, claims in a petition filed last week that the former president, Carlos Menem, gave a direct order to protect Alberto Kanoore Edul, a textile entrepreneur whose family hails from the same Syrian town as Menem’s and who was an early suspect in the attack, which killed 85 and wounded more than 300.

Nisman has asked investigative judge Ariel Lijo to arrest Menem and his brother, as well as three key players in the initial probe: the lead magistrate, police commissioner and intelligence chief.

The 77-year-old Menem, who is now a senator, has denied the charges and accused the administration of President Cristina Kirchner of using them to deflect attention from its current internal struggles. The decision on whether to press charges will be made by the judge and is expected in June.

Regardless of his decision, this latest development serves as a stark reminder of how the case surrounding the bombing of the community center — known as the AMIA — continues to be a political football as the 14th anniversary of the bombing approaches.

“Because it has never been thoroughly investigated, this case has been politicized over and over again all those years,” said Gabriel Levinas, the author of a book on the July 1994 bombing and a longtime critic of the probe. “And every time we come close to the anniversary of the attack, we inevitably see some supposedly new developments.”

While some associations of family victims have long suspected Menem, who was in power from 1989 to 1999, of a cover-up, last week’s arrest request was the first time that he has been formally accused of direct intervention. For years, some of Menem’s adversaries have claimed that the reason for his involvement was to push aside evidence that the bombing was the result of a dispute between Menem and Syria.

In the past few years, Argentina has issued two indictments accusing Iran and Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, along with several arrest warrants for high-ranking Iranian officials and Hezbollah operatives. Iran has repeatedly rejected the accusations as an Israeli-American fabrication.

Nisman told the Forward that the charges against Iran and Hezbollah were still valid and being pursued aggressively.

“This does absolutely not change the accusations against Hezbollah and Iran… and there is no evidence against Syria,” Nisman told the Forward. “To a certain degree, it reinforces them, because Kanoore Edul has many links with Islamist extremists.”

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