Questions linger 6 years after bombing in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES — In the cold morning air, the loud, mournful calls of four shofars sounded in front of the federal courthouse.

"The ancient sound of the shofar used to rally the people to listen," Enrique Burbinsky told a few dozen people Monday. "Today it rallies the people to demand" justice.

Burbinsky is spokesman for Memoria Activa, the organization formed after the July 18, 1994 car bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center that killed 86 people and wounded some 300 others.

Every Monday morning at 9:53, the time of the bombing here in the Argentine capital, relatives of the victims and some leaders from various Jewish groups gather at the courthouse to seek justice.

Six years after the center was bombed, long the heart of Jewish life here, the Argentine government has failed to find those responsible for the attack. The 1992 car bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 29 people and left 200 wounded, has likewise gone unsolved.

A few individuals — including members of the Buenos Aires police force — have been indicted as participants in the bombing, but their role was primarily in providing the vehicle used for the attack.

The link between the alleged foreign masterminds and the local people who carried out the bombing has yet to be determined, although strong evidence points to the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires.

The case is plagued with so many gross irregularities — including the disappearance of key evidence and disobedience of the investigating judge's orders by government officials and the police — that some 50 separate cases have been opened to address them.

Burbinsky and other Jewish leaders charge that the lack of progress in the case is a direct result of the government's lack of political will. But just the same, the magnitude of the crime and the nature of Argentina's foreign policy suggest that Argentina had ample reason to treat this case differently.

However, the administration of then-President Carlos Menem prided itself on having established excellent relations with Israel, the United States and the U.S. Jewish community.

Although Argentina received help from foreign governments, especially at the early stages of the investigation, that help mostly addressed the international aspects of the terrorist attack.

Israel's spy agency, Mossad, the CIA and FBI contributed information and technical expertise that incriminated Iran and Hezbollah. Yet foreign governments did little to press local officials to find out the details of the "local connection," even as the number of serious irregularities in the investigation mounted.

Explanations for the lack of foreign pressure vary. For one, U.S. officials may not have wanted to spoil their good relations with Argentina, which had aligned itself firmly with the United States on most foreign policy fronts.

The Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires acknowledges that Argentine-Israeli relations at both the commercial and political levels were negatively affected by the embassy and AMIA bombings. Yet Israel also reaffirms its interest in maintaining good relations with Argentina.

On July 17, Memoria Activa will meet for the 311th consecutive week to demand justice and to hold a special memorial service commemorating the sixth anniversary of the bombing.

As they have done before, members will likely condemn the course of the investigation, challenge the new administration of President Fernando de la Rua to show the political will that its predecessor lacked, and express their fears that a trial of the few already indicted will put an end to the case with a few half-truths.

Pointedly, this rally by Memoria Activa is separate from the one organized by AMIA for the morning of July 18 — the actual anniversary of the bombing — which was attended by a group of victims' relatives who have preferred to work within the AMIA framework.

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