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Argentina issues arrest warrants

Nine Iranian ex-officials, including the president, are sought in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

November 10, 2006|Patrick J. McDonnell | Times Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES — An Argentine judge handed down international arrest warrants Thursday for ex-Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and eight other former Iranian officials in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center here that killed 85 people and injured more than 200.

An Argentine investigation blamed the bombing on Hezbollah guerrillas acting on orders from Tehran, and last month a pair of special prosecutors here asked federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral to seek the arrests. The judge said Thursday that "sufficient proof" had been provided to issue the warrants.

The revival of the case has thrust Argentina's center-left government uncomfortably into the thicket of Middle East politics, although President Nestor Kirchner and his aides have declined to comment on the inquiry.

The bombing inquiry has drawn praise from Washington, Tel Aviv and the Jewish community worldwide, but Iranian officials have denounced the case as a politically motivated calumny.

"These are baseless allegations against my country," Mohsen Baharvand, Iran's charge d'affaires in Buenos Aires, told the Associated Press on Thursday.

He said Tehran would resist efforts to arrest Rafsanjani and the others, who include a former intelligence chief, a former foreign minister and several diplomats posted to the Iranian Embassy here at the time of the bombing.

Argentine prosecutors view the embassy as a planning center for the attack.

Rafsanjani was president from 1989 to 1997 and remains a powerful figure in Iran.

The Israeli ambassador in Buenos Aires, Rafael Eldad, expressed "great satisfaction" with the judge's decision.

The issuance of arrest warrants via Interpol would subject Rafsanjani and the other former officials to detention if they leave Iran. If arrested, they could be extradited to Argentina to stand trial.

Prosecutors say an explosives-laden van driven by a Hezbollah suicide bomber detonated outside the seven-story Argentine Israelite Mutual Assn. on July 18, 1994. That attack was one of two 1990s strikes on Jewish institutions in the Argentine capital, home to Latin America's largest Jewish community.

In March 1992, a blast at the Israeli Embassy here killed 29 people. That case also remains unsolved.

Suspicions have focused on Iran for years.

The special prosecutors who sought the arrest of the Iranians said the attack might have been in retribution for Argentina's decision, under U.S. pressure, to terminate an agreement to provide nuclear technology and materials to Tehran.

The decision to strike the cultural center was made "by the highest authorities of the then-government of Iran," special prosecutor Alberto Nisman alleged last month.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Andres D'Alessandro of The Times' Buenos Aires Bureau contributed to this report.

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