London, 19 Jan – In their January 18 article for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Toby Dershowitz, vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Gardner Lange, research assistant, write about Argentine terrorism prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head in what was almost certainly murder, not suicide, two years ago, on January 18, 2015.
The day after he was killed, he was about to make some serious revelations in front of the country’s Congress.
In charge of investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center that killed 85 people, making it Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack, Nisman assembled evidence against senior Iranian officials, who he accused of masterminding the bombing. On the basis of the evidence compiled by Nisman, Interpol issued red notices for five Iranian officials in 2007. The red notices are similar to international arrest warrants, and remain a black mark on their reputation.
The case he was about to present to Congress revealed other devastating evidence against Argentina’s then-president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Dershowitz writes that, “Nisman had legally secured thousands of wiretaps of Kirchner allies, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, and Iranian agents operating in Argentina. Nisman said the wiretaps and other evidence proved Kirchner was plotting to find a way to lift the red notices and buy immunity for the Iranian officials he held responsible for the AMIA attack in exchange for expanded trade with Argentina.”
Nisman’s investigations led to his discovery that Iran was using its embassies, mosques, and cultural centers to radicalize and recruit from the local population.
Nisman’s death precluded him from presenting his accusations to the Congress, and Kirchner supporters spent the next two years keeping the complaint from being investigated in the courts. This month an Argentine court agreed to open an investigation into the allegations Nisman had assembled.
Kirchner had negotiated in a joint Iran-Argentina “truth commission” with Iran, part of a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, purportedly to jointly investigate the AMIA bombing. However, some of the wiretaps discussed fabricating “new evidence” that would have been presented to that commission. Nisman believed the truth commission was a mechanism to whitewash Iran’s role in the AMIA attack.
According to one account, a Kirchner supporter heard on the wiretaps, discussed inventing a culprit for the AMIA bombing. “They want to construct a new enemy of the AMIA, someone new to be responsible,” he said. The blame would be placed on a “group of local fascists.”
Mauricio Macri, elected president of Argentina in late 2015, has distanced himself from Iran’s activities and taken steps to investigate Nisman’s death. Macri is continuing the investigation into the AMIA bombing.
A new investigation into Nisman’s allegations is an important step, it’s unclear whether Argentina’s judicial system will operate without a degree of politicized partiality.
“Politics and the justice system remain closely aligned in Argentina, which the World Economic Forum ranked 121st out of 138 countries when it comes to judicial independence. Macri has an opportunity to reform the judicial system as he has begun to do for other parts of the government,” writes Dershowitz.
As well, the investigation will have regional repercussions, since Argentina is not the only target of Iranian penetration in the hemisphere.
Mohammad Hamdar, a Hezbollah operative in Peru, is on trial. Materials to manufacture bombs and hundreds of photos of high-value Israeli and Jewish targets were found in his home by authorities. It’s been reported that Hamdar and his new wife received money from Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, to stage their wedding. The U.S. Treasury Department designated Hamdar as being a member of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization.
President Nicholas Maduro, of Venezuela, recently named Tareck El Aissami to be his vice president. Known for his ties to Hezbollah and Iran’s revolutionaries, El Aissami reportedly used his previous positions to supply fake Venezuelan passports to Syrian terrorists and drug smugglers.
These and other examples should send red flags throughout the hemisphere, as they show that Iran views Latin America as a target-rich region for its revolution.
Argentina and the United States can benefit from lessons learned from Nisman’s work.
Removal of the AMIA-related red notices is reportedly sought after by Iran. Although Argentina must take the lead, U.S. support of the effort will help ensure the red notices are renewed by Interpol when they are up for review in November.
Additionally, the U.S. should support the investigation into Nisman’s death. The prosecutor investigating Nisman’s apparent assassination has recently received death threats, and the crime scene has been compromised. Allegedly, there has been evidence tampering in both the murder case and the AMIA investigation itself. Macri should institute a zero-tolerance policy for this scheme and punish those who have engaged in it.
Tehran’s agents in Argentina, those heard on the wiretaps, have not been tried or punished. Argentina should monitor their activities and hold them accountable.
The report mandated by the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012, should be updated by the U. S. government. The nominee to become the head of the Department of Homeland Security, General John Kelly, understands this challenge, and noted that “Iran is willing to leverage criminal groups to carry out its objectives in the U.S. homeland.”
Dershowitz concludes, “Along with ensuring an impartial examination of his final investigation, heeding the lessons from Nisman’s lifelong work will be a critical element of our national security.”