Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1992, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing twenty-nine and wounding more than two hundred. A group called Islamic Jihad, an affiliate of Hezbollah, claimed responsibility. In 1994, again in Buenos Aires, a bomb destroyed a building where several Israeli Argentine associations were headquartered. More than ten years after the attacks, both cases remained unsolved.

Summary of Event

On March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber drove a Ford F-100 pickup truck loaded with explosives into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Besides the embassy, a Catholic church and a school were destroyed. Twenty-nine people were killed and more than two hundred wounded. Some were Israelis, but most were Argentine, the majority of whom were children. Iran and Hezbollah were accused. A group called Islamic Jihad, an affiliate of Hezbollah, claimed responsibility. Terrorist acts Islamic Jihad [kw]Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina (Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994) [kw]Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina, Terrorists (Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994) [kw]Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina, Terrorists Attack (Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994) [kw]Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina, Terrorists Attack Israeli (Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994) [kw]Jewish Center in Argentina, Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and (Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994) [kw]Argentina, Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in (Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994) Terrorist acts Islamic Jihad [g]South America;Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994: Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina[08320] [g]Argentina;Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994: Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina[08320] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Mar. 17, 1992, and July 18, 1994: Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina[08320] Menem, Carlos Saúl Kassar, Monzer al- Rabbani, Mohsen Assad, Hafez al- Berro, Ibrahim Hussein

On July 18, 1994, again in Buenos Aires, a bomb destroyed the seven-story building housing the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association), Argentine Israelite Mutual Association and the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA). A group called Ansarollah Ansarollah claimed responsibility. There were eighty-five fatalities, while more than 150 were injured. The identity of the group or groups responsible for both attacks remained disputed years after the incidents.

In both Buenos Aires attacks, the target was the Jewish population of Argentina; numbering 300,000, it was the largest Jewish population in Latin America. The first bombing was allegedly a counterattack after the killing of the secretary-general of Hezbollah Hezbollah (party of God), ՙAbbas al-Musawi, and his wife and child in Lebanon on February 16, 1992, for which Hezbollah had vowed revenge. Although Hezbollah had denied any involvement in the second attack, Argentine investigators officially explained it as the organization’s way of expressing its resentment of Argentina’s inclination toward North American politics.

Evidence pointed toward Iranian-Syrian complicity in both Buenos Aires bomb attacks. The truck in the first bombing was hired for twenty-one thousand dollars by someone using a false identity. The rental fee was traced to a currency-exchange bureau in Biblos, Lebanon, which was a subsidiary of a larger exchange bureau, Society for Change in Beirut, owned by a Syrian, Monzer al-Kassar. He was believed to be a drugs and arms trafficker and a key player in the world of terrorism.

Hezbollah also had serious ties to the Syrian government. The probability of Syria’s culpability was strengthened in the light of events leading to the election of Argentine president Carlos Saúl Menem. He and relatives of his first wife were originally from Syria. A presidential aspirant when he visited Syria in 1988, Menem met with top officials of the Syrian government, including Vice PresidentՙAbd al-Halim Khaddam and President Hafez al-Assad’s brother, Rifaat al-Assad. During this time, Menem made the acquaintance of al-Kassar and Alfredo Yabrán, both of whom originated from the same town in Syria as Menem. On that trip, they promised political funding to Menem in return for nuclear and missile technology that had originally been promised to Iraq, traditionally a mutual enemy of Iran and Syria.

In the early 1980’s, Argentina was pioneering nuclear technology in Latin America with the development of the Condor II missile. Former president Raúl Alfonsín Alfonsín, Raúl had signed an agreement with Egypt and Iraq in January, 1984, to build this missile, which was to be superior to America’s Pershing II. Syrian officials invested millions of dollars in the development of the Condor II missile, believing it to be far superior to the Scud and Badr 2000 missiles.

However, after the widely condemned Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Menem, who assumed the presidency in 1989, believed that partnership with Iraq would no longer be gainful. Argentina had suspended the installation of its nuclear reactor in Syria in 1991. It also dismantled the Condor II because of pressure from America and Israel. This breach of contract forced Syria to purchase an inferior missile from China, a decision that did not go down well with investors. There were also unconfirmed reports that Iran had purchased Scud missiles from North Korea.

Argentine president Carlos Saúl Menem speaking at a Latin American economic conference in Miami, Florida, in early 1998.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The Buenos Aires bombings left few Argentines in doubt that the attacks were retaliation from the aggrieved parties of the unfulfilled missiles contract. However, the Argentine government placed blame on Iran, ignoring any possible involvement by Syria. This was perceived by some parties to be a cover-up on the part of the Argentine government, what some called “Menemism.” Official exposure of its dealings with Syria would not augur well for President Menem’s government. In May, 1998, the Argentine government announced to the world that it had proof of Iranian complicity in the 1994 attack, and seven Iranian diplomats were expelled from Argentina.

Notwithstanding, the investigative and judicial process was fraught with irregularities. A Brazilian named Wilson Dos Santos reportedly informed the Argentine consulate in Milan that the group responsible for the 1992 attack was planning another. Dos Santos claimed to have obtained this information from his Iranian girlfriend, Nasrim Mokhtari, who worked with the group of terrorists, and he unwittingly became involved in their activities.

Dos Santos’s warnings were acknowledged only after the 1994 attack, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered how accurate his initial testimony had been. The activities of the unnamed terrorist group were found to have been coordinated by Mohsen Rabbani while he was cultural attaché of the Iranian embassy in Argentina. According to investigators, most of the terrorists had entered Argentina through the Argentine-Brazilian-Paraguayan border. Rabbani was also cited in connection with the 1994 bombing in the testimony of a former Iranian intelligence officer who had been under German protection since 1996. The officer’s testimony also established a “local connection,” in which members of the Argentine police force and civil employees were either bribed or coerced into joining the plot. However, in September, 2004, four former police officers and an alleged car thief were acquitted because of lack of evidence.

Evidence from Spanish intelligence showed that al-Kassar had transported the explosive Semtex, part of the composition of the 1992 bomb, from Spain into Argentina via Damascus. Ownership of the company that carried the Semtex to Argentina, Cenrex Trading Corporation of Varsovia, was traced to al-Kassar, who had flown to Argentina from Spain on Iberia Airlines Flight 6940 at the time of the attack.

In January, 2003, a report by Secretaría de Inteligencia de Estado, Argentina’s intelligence agency, was handed to federal judge Juan José Galeano, who refused to issue arrest warrants for some individuals indicted in the report. Most of the individuals named would remain free; al-Kassar was even granted Argentine citizenship. In August, 2005, Galeano was impeached for his mishandling of the investigation.

While links among Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were first established by the Central Intelligence Agency in Argentina, Syria later faded from suspicion, partly because of the Menem government’s cover-up efforts. At the same time, Syria was considered a veritable tool in peace negotiations in the Middle East. Thus Argentine Jews, believing that Israel’s position in the Middle East peace process could be strengthened, were not enthusiastic about pursuing the theory of Syrian involvement in the Buenos Aires bombings, especially the investigations of al-Kassar’s activities.

Significance

The Buenos Aires bombings of 1992 and 1994 were the worst attacks up to that time on Argentina and the largest attacks on Jews since the Holocaust. Both cases remained unsolved into the twenty-first century; no one had been convicted. In October, 2006, Argentine prosecutors charged Iran and Hezbollah with the 1994 bombing. According to chief prosecutor Alberto Nisman, the bombing was carried out by Hezbollah and ordered by Iran. Nisman’s report indentified Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a Hezbollah militant, as the suicide bomber in that attack. Argentina, the United States, and Israel accused Iran of involvement, which the Iranian government denied. It was argued that Hezbollah did not have a motive to attack and that the organization had never carried out an attack outside the Middle East.

Some claimed that Syria was the lead party in the attacks, but that the planning and execution were carried out by Iran. Accusations of cover-ups and mishandling of the cases continued for years after the incidents. Terrorist acts Islamic Jihad

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barsky, Yehudit. Terrorism Briefing: Hezbollah. New York: American Jewish Community, 2003. Discusses the evolution of Hezbollah and its obligations to the philosophies of terrorism and anti-Semitism. Analyzes its networking with other terrorist groups in the Middle East and its role in the Argentine attacks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Escudé, Carlos, and Gurevich Beatriz. “Limits to Governability, Corruption, and Transnational Terrorism: The Case of the 1992 and 1994 Attacks in Buenos Aires.” Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America, Latina y el Caribe, July-December, 2003. Provides a detailed description of events, an examination of the local politics of the investigative process, and an analysis of the Syrian-Iranian connection.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quillen, Chris. “Mass Casualty Bombings Chronology.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 25 (September/October, 2002): 293-302. Examines descriptive forms of terrorism. Mass terrorism—an attack involving more than twenty-five fatalities—is the modern form of terrorism.

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