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Friday, September 03, 2004

5 Acquitted in '94 Bombing of a Jewish Center in Argentina


The trial of four Argentine police officers and a car thief, accused of providing the vehicle used in a deadly terrorist bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, ended Thursday in the acquittal of all the defendants.


It was the longest, most complex trial in Argentine history, nearly three years, with 1,284 witnesses.

The verdict was reached 10 years after the attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 300 in what remains the deadliest anti-Semitic incident anywhere since World War II. For months, prominent Jews had warned that judicial misconduct and an official cover-up were ruining a true inquiry and preventing the main culprits from facing justice.

Carlos Sa�l Menem, who was president of Argentina at the time of the bombing, at first blamed Islamic extremists from Iran. Governments that came to power after he left office in 1999 have accused Mr. Menem of deliberately ignoring promising leads that might have implicated the state intelligence apparatus and other groups loyal to him. In their final ruling, the judges asked for an inquiry into the conduct of his minister of the interior, Carlos Carach.

'Carlos Menem is the culprit and is a criminal fugitive,'' Marina Degtiar, speaking on behalf of relatives of the victims, said at a recent ceremony for the 10th anniversary of the attack on the center, known by its Spanish initials as AMIA. 'So many facts still lie with impunity beneath the ruins,'' she added.

In 2003, arrest warrants were issued for four Iranian government officials who were accused of organizing and carrying out the attack. They included a former ambassador to Argentina. Iran responded with vague threats against Argentina, and Britain would not allow the former ambassador to be extradited after he was found there.

Amid heavy security, a three judge panel announced the verdict on Thursday night in a national television broadcast. The judges cited lack of proof as their reason for rejecting the prosecution's request for life sentences for the accused, but it will be a month or so before the full text of their decision will be made available.

The five men were not accused of a direct role in the attack, but were charged as accessories, part of what prosecutors called 'the local connection'' to Islamic extremist groups. 'The Iranian connection needs to be explored,'' the American Jewish Committee said in a statement urging the Argentine government 'to step up'' efforts to solve this case and a similar attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.."