OpinionIran in the World PressUncovering Iran's Latin networks

Uncovering Iran’s Latin networks

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Wall Street Journal: An eight-year investigation by an Argentine prosecutor into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires—where 85 people died—has led to a very different conclusion about Iran’s global agenda. A prosecutor in Buenos Aires finds Tehran’s fingerprints region-wide.

The Wall Street Journal

By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY

To hear Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tell it, Iran is a peace-loving country that minds its own business and just tries to get by in a world that is inexplicably hostile. But an eight-year investigation by an Argentine prosecutor into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires—where 85 people died—has led to a very different conclusion about Iran’s global agenda.

According to Alberto Nisman, who was assigned to the bombing case in 2005, Iran is sowing revolution all over the world, and Latin America is a key target. In a 500-page report released on May 29, Mr. Nisman outlines a sophisticated Iranian terrorism network that runs from the Caribbean to the Southern Cone.

Its targets are not limited to areas south of the Rio Grande. The foiled attempt to blow up New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in 2007, Mr. Nisman contends, was an Iranian-planned operation that was managed from Guyana in a manner almost identical to the Buenos Aires attack. His report delivers evidence suggesting that numerous similar terror cells operate in the region.

In October 2006, Mr. Nisman indicted seven Iranians and one Lebanese-born member of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia for the AMIA murders. Interpol notices for their arrest were issued but none was captured. Then, late last year, the Argentine government of Cristina Kirchner announced that a “truth commission,” to be chosen by Argentina and Iran, would examine the viability of the prosecutor’s case.

To many Argentines, that seemed like letting the fox decide the fate of the chickens. But Mrs. Kirchner forged ahead, getting congress to agree. On May 20 Ahmadinejad approved Iran’s participation on the commission.

Mr. Nisman’s response was to release a mountain of evidence against Tehran into cyberspace for all the world to see.

The thread that led Mr. Nisman to look more closely at the JFK airport plot, and then the rest of the region, seems to have begun with Mohsen Rabbani. He was the Iranian cultural attaché in Buenos Aires in 1994 and the man whom Mr. Nisman’s report says was “the principal architect of the local connection in the AMIA bombing.”

Rabbani was one of a number of agents that Iran sent out into the world in the early 1980s to execute a plan to turn its embassies into centers for the export of revolution. He went to Argentina, Mohammad Tabatabaei Einaki was sent to Brazil and, according to Mr. Nisman’s report, “Iran accepted Abdul Kadir as its agent in Guyana.” Kadir would later be convicted in the U.S. in the JFK bombing conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison.

As Mr. Nisman’s report says, “The crucial issue in this matter—based on documents seized and shared with this investigation by the U.S. judicial authorities—is the remarkable resemblance in the building and [the] development of the intelligence and infiltration structures established in Argentina and Guyana since 1983.”
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WSJ’s Americas columnist Mary Anastacia O’Grady discusses Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman and Iran’s strategy in Latin America. Photo: Associated Press.

Guyanese law enforcement agents who searched Kadir’s residence after uncovering the JFK plot came upon “letters addressed to Mohsen Rabbani, newspaper articles that mention At Tauhid mosque [in Buenos Aires]—formerly run by Mohsen Rabbani—and Kadir’s personal phone book with Rabbani’s contact information handwritten in it.” The prosecutor says this provoked his team “to deepen the investigation [in order] to further the study of the context in which the AMIA bombing occurred.”

Mr. Nisman found that Kadir was a disciple of Rabbani, who believed that there was great potential for the Iranian revolution in yet-untapped Latin America and who “was the spokesman [for] the hardest line inside the Iranian regime.”

The model is not complicated. True believers are placed in legal structures, like embassies, cultural centers, mosques and religious schools, where they carry out official duties but also radicalize converts, collect funds, pass secret communications and otherwise lay revolutionary groundwork. Thus the mosque, for example, has a “dual use” as an “intelligence station.”

Iran did not have an embassy in Guyana so Kadir used Tehran’s diplomatic post in Venezuela to maintain contact with the regime. He founded the Islamic Information Center of Guyana and became the representative of the Secretariat of the Islamic Caribbean Movement. He carried out his work in neighboring countries, using “religious propagation to cover illegal activities,” such as building radical networks.

Meanwhile, Rabbani was also running operations in Uruguay, Chile and Colombia. Mr. Nisman’s office says that Mohammad Tabataei Einaki was expelled from Brazil in 1986. But it is highly unlikely that he was not replaced. The Brazilian border with Paraguay and Argentina is a famous hideout for Hezbollah, but Mr. Nisman’s report asserts that radicalized members of the Shiite Muslim sect—of which Iran considers itself the leader—also are known to operate in São Paulo, Parana and the Federal District in Brazil. The report doesn’t even mention Nicaragua, a small country where Iran has a large presence.

It will be interesting to see if the Ahmadinejad-Kirchner “truth commission” calls Mr. Nisman to testify.

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