Investigators offer new theory on Argentine bombings

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BUENOS AIRES — Private investigators and a material witness have told the Argentine Supreme Court they suspect that no car bombs were used in two separate bombings of Jewish sites here.

According to the investigators, explosives used in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community's headquarters here were either placed inside the buildings or inside large, cast-iron containers used to remove construction debris.

They said both the Israeli Embassy and the Argentine Mutual Aid Association, or AMIA, building were being renovated at the time of the attacks and that there were large containers for hauling away rubble parked at the entrances of both buildings when the bombs were detonated.

The March 17, 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy killed 29 people and left more than 100 injured. The July 18, 1994 attack on the AMIA building left 87 dead and at least 300 wounded.

Two weeks ago, the Argentine Supreme Court announced that "unless the parties involved or the attorney general of Argentina come up with new information," the investigation of the 1992 attack will be closed in March.

Jewish leaders and other observers of the case reacted with skepticism to the testimony of the private investigators.

"This theory is interesting, but the group did not provide any hard evidence to back it up," a source close to the Argentine judiciary said in an interview.

Luis Dobniewsky, attorney for a group of relatives of victims of the AMIA bombing, agreed. He asserted it is unlikely the new testimony "will alter the investigation in any way."

Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Aviran, striking a somewhat more optimistic note, said he was "hopeful that these investigators are on to something" and that their testimony "can be useful to the Supreme Court."

In their testimony before the court, Carlos De Napoli, Enrique Carranza and Daniel Joffe said: "Both attacks were similar. Both left craters which are remarkably similar. And in both cases, the buildings crashed down in the same way."

The three are members of a group that includes private investigators, journalists and relatives of victims of the bombings.

Joffe, an electrician, was present at the time of the AMIA bombing. He had just delivered some spools of wire to the building and was leaving when his car malfunctioned.

He was parked a few yards from the building's main entrance and was trying to repair his car when the bomb went off.

"I was looking straight ahead, to the AMIA entrance," he told the judges, "and I saw no van, no car bomb."

De Napoli, Carranza and Joffe are not the first to deny that a car bomb was used in the AMIA attack.

Journalists Joe Goldman and Jorge Lanata came to the same conclusion in their 1994 book "Smoke Screens."

According to the authors, the car parts found at the site of the bombing "were planted to mislead the investigators."

Meanwhile, the judge in charge of the investigation into the AMIA bombing fired a high-ranking police official in the wake of allegations of misconduct.

Judge Juan Jose Galeano ordered Police Inspector Angel Salguero "to leave the investigation" into the AMIA blast after the local daily newspaper Pagina 12 published evidence linking Salguero to Carlos Alberto Telleldin.

Telleldin, a second-hand car dealer who allegedly sold the Renault van that investigators believe was used in the attack, is the sole suspect held in connection with the AMIA bombing after a 17-month investigation.

According to Pagina 12, Salguero and Telleldin knew each other and had been "in business together" for years. The paper further stated that there is a photograph showing Salguero and Telleldin together in a friendly pose.

Prosecutor Eamon Mullen confirmed that Galeano had "cut Inspector Salguero from the investigation," but he refused to elaborate.

Other legal sources said that Galeano would look into "allegations of involvement in the case by Buenos Aires police personnel."

State Police Chief Pedro Klodczyk flatly denied that there was "any chance of policemen under my command being involved with terrorists."