Iran faces new pressure over bombing plot

BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. and Israeli efforts to put Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in the dock for international terrorism gathered momentum when authorities here indicted former Argentine President Carlos Menem in connection with a deadly Buenos Aires bombing 15 years ago.

The flamboyant Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants, was charged Thursday by Judge Ariel Lijo with obstructing a state investigation into the attack on the Argentina Israel Mutual Association on July 18, 1994, in which 85 people were killed and 300 wounded.


Indicted with him were George Parker, formed head of Argentina's anti-terrorism unit; federal judge Juan Jose Galeano, who oversaw the initial investigation but was removed in 2004 because of irregularities; former intelligence services chief Hugo Anzorregui; and Menem's brother, Munir.

On Friday another federal judge, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, requested Lebanon and Colombia to help arrest Samuel Salman al-Reda, a Colombian of Lebanese descent, in connection with the bombing.


In May, Corral issued an international arrest warrant for Reda, who had lived in Buenos Aires until the day of the bombing, then disappeared. He is believed to be living in Lebanon with his Argentine wife.

According to state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who heads the investigation, Reda was the link between Tehran and Hezbollah in the bombing plot.

Argentine authorities have accused Iran of plotting the attack and Hezbollah of carrying it out. Both deny any involvement. Tehran refuses to cooperate with the Argentine investigators.

In 1999 Buenos Aires issued international arrest and extradition warrants for five Iranians and one Lebanese for the bombing.

The Iranians include Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who in 1994 was commander of the al-Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that conducts clandestine operations overseas.

Menem was president of Argentina from July 1989 to December 1999. His two terms were tainted by scandal and controversy, including allegations of corruption and gunrunning.

As a sitting senator for La Rioja province, he enjoys congressional immunity. He would have to be impeached by the Legislature before he could be arrested.

The flurry of legal activity has put the bombing and the trouble-plagued 15-year investigation back in the international spotlight.


That's exactly where the Americans and Israelis want it to be in their campaign to prove their contention that Tehran and its Lebanese proxy are guilty of international terrorism.

U.S. officials portray Hezbollah as Iran's strike arm, which gives Tehran plausible deniability in overseas operations. Hezbollah denies it operates outside the Levant, where it is one of Israel's most implacable enemies.

The Americans have pressed for a resolution of the case, which Argentine authorities admit was repeatedly undermined by state officials.

Washington wants to see Tehran and Hezbollah indicted for the 1994 bombing, the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history, and the March 1992 bombing of Israel's Embassy in Buenos Aires in which 22 people perished.

To this day, no one has been convicted for the attacks, which have become symbols of the failings of Argentina's judicial system.

The Americans have become increasingly concerned over Iran's growing influence in Latin America, which Washington considers a "potential risk."

In June the head of the U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, expressed "real concern" about Iran's links with "extremist organizations" in the region, including Hezbollah.

Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has forged close ties with anti-U.S. Latin American leaders in recent years, most notably Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.


U.S. officials allege that Hezbollah is heavily involved in drug trafficking in the hemisphere, a charge the Shiite organization denies.

In July Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman toured the region on a mission that was largely intended to stem "Iranian infiltration" of the continent.

In May the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that Venezuela and Bolivia were providing uranium for Iran's nuclear program. Both states denied that.

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