Prosecutor in 1994 AMIA bombing case found dead in Buenos Aires home

Mr. Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor investigating the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment on Sunday, January 18. Preliminary forensic reports point to an apparent suicide. He was found with a wound to his temple and a small caliber pistol found next to his body. Forensic testing indicates the gun was fired at point-blank range.

Mr. Nisman’s death comes a week after he filed a nearly 300-page complaint in which he accuses high-ranking Argentinian government officials—and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself—of agreeing with Iranian authorities to dampen or obstruct the judicial investigation on the widely suspected role of Iranian government officials in the bombing. Mr. Nisman claims that, in exchange, the Kirchner administration negotiated access to Iranian oil and the country’s domestic agricultural markets. Mr. Nisman was scheduled to testify in front of congress on Monday, January 20, a day after his body was found.

Although initial forensic reports called the death an apparent suicide, evidence has surfaced to challenge that theory. President Fernández herself, in a statement released on her website, calls Mr. Nisman’s death “the suicide (that I am convinced) was no suicide.” Her administration has denied Mr. Nisman’s accusations, and the President stated that Mr. Nisman was misled by political opponents, and implied that these same people—who remain unidentified—are responsible for Mr. Nisman’s suspicious death.

Muddy Circumstances

The circumstances surrounding the days leading up to Mr. Nisman’s death only add more mystery. There was no suicide note to be found in his apartment, and Mr. Nisman had left a list of groceries for his maid to purchase in the coming week. The locksmith hired to open his apartment door said that the service door merely had the key in the lock but was otherwise unlocked, refuting official statements that the apartment was locked from within. The forensic report found no trace of gunpowder residue on his hands, although this is still consonant with the suicide theory given the small caliber of the handgun. Messages to friends and family show that he was actively preparing for his testimony before Congress. Those close to him have further said that he did not show any worrying signs in his final days. However, the pistol that was used in his death was not his. Mr. Nisman had borrowed the gun from a colleague, even though media have reported he had guns registered to his name.

The Iranian Connection

The July 18, 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, run by the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, left a toll of 85 people dead and around 300 injured, and is the deadliest bombing in the history of Argentina. In 2006, the Argentine government formally accused six Iranian nationals connected with the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah. Interpol issued “red notices” for the six Iranians, which are still in place. Some of these individuals have held high positions in the Iranian government and military, such as former Revolutionary Guards commander and defense minister Ahmad Vahidi. In 2013, Argentina and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding that would increase cooperation in the investigation and establish a truth commission (the unconstitutionality of the Memorandum is currently in appellate review). Mr. Nisman alleged that this Memorandum was a public cover for the tacit understanding between the two governments. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif denied any Iranian involvement in Mr. Nisman’s death.

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Photo by Jaluj

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