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Argentina Jewish center bombing still a mystery

Andreas Kobloch
December 23, 2020

It's been 26 years since the bloody attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead. So far, nobody has been convicted of the truck bombing — but that could soon change.

Photo shows the demolished seven-story building of the Mutual Israelite Association of Argentina (AMIA)
The 1994 bomb blast that destroyed the AMIA building in Buenos Aires left 85 people dead Image: Daniel Luna/dpa/picture-alliance

Car dealer Carlos Telleldin certainly doesn't have a stellar reputation. He is suspected of having been involved in trafficking women, forging dollar bills, theft and smuggling cars. Worse still, vehicle registration documents show he owned the van used to bomb the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, which left 85 people dead and more than 300 injured.

Two years later, Telleldin — already serving jail time at this point — told an Argentine court he had sold said van to a group of police officers from Buenos Aires province. Four former officers were subsequently arrested and tried alongside Telleldin in 2001.

Paid to lie in court

The court, however, found that a federal judge had ordered Argentina's now defunct Secretariat of Intelligence (SIDE) to pay Telleldin $400,000 (about €330,000 today) to accuse those police officers of having ties to the AMIA bombers. The court subsequently acquitted the defendants in 2004. Five years later, Argentina's top court upheld the acquittal, yet ruled that Telleldin should stand trial again.

In May 2019, Telleldin went back to court. The coronavirus pandemic, however, forced proceedings to be temporarily suspended until they were reopened via video conferencing this past June.

According to AMIA attorney Miguel Bronfman, Telleldin either knew, or must have considered it possible, that his van would be used to bomb the association's building. Following the 1994 blast Telleldin fled to neighboring Paraguay, where he was arrested and lied to authorities. "It is obvious his lies serve to conceal who he gave his van to, and that he cannot tell the truth because the truth would compromise his position," said Bronfman.

Carlos Telleldin attends a trial where he and others are accused of derailing an investigation into the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Telleldin spent a decade behind bars from 1994 to 2004Image: Natacha Pisarenko/AP/picture alliance

Hezbollah, a Shia political party and militant group backed by Iran, is thought to have orchestrated the bombing. The decision to launch the attack, according to an Argentine inquiry committee, was made by Iran's leadership. Yet, to this day no light has been shed on who in Argentina colluded with the attackers.

In early 2013, Iran and Argentina — then governed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner— agreed to launch a joint investigation into the 1994 bombing. The announcement caused outrage among Argentina's Jewish community, who argued that this would be putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.

Unexplained death of a public prosecutor

In January 2015, public prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot wound — though it remains unclear whether he was murdered or committed suicide. Nisman had published a report accusing former President De Kirchner of allowing the AMIA masterminds to be let off scot-free so as not to jeopardize Argentine oil deals with Iran.

Demonstrators hold placards to remember investigator Alberto Nisman
The reasons for Alberto Nisman's death are unclear to this dayImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Nur Photo/M. Baglietto

President Mauricio Macri's government, which succeeded the De Kirchner administration in 2015, abandoned the Iran agreement. In February 2019, former Argentine President Carlos Menem — in office during the 1994 AMIA bombing — was cleared of having covered up the attack. Telleldin, meanwhile, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for obstructing the investigation into the bombing. He was also ordered to repay the $400,000 he had received from Argentina's secret service to implicate several police officers. The sentence, however, can still be contested and Telleldin — who already spent a decade behind bars from 1994 to 2004 — remains a free man, for now.

Will justice finally be served?

A final verdict is expected on Wednesday. Telleldin's attorney has demanded he go free, arguing Telleldin had been unaware the van he sold would be used for the bombing.

AMIA and Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas — which represents Argentina's Jewish community — are calling for Telleldin to receive a 20-year jail sentence. The public prosecutor and relatives of those who were killed are demanding he receive a life sentence.