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October 8, 2014 3:55 pm

Argentine Police Arrest Suspect Planning Attack on Jewish Center as Row Over AMIA Bombing Investigation Continues

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Young people participate in an Israel festival at the Sociedad Hebraica in Buenos Aires. Photo: Sociedad Hebraica

Police in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, have arrested a 57 year-old man suspected of planning an attack on the Sociedad Hebraica, a local Jewish community center.

JTA reported that Argentina’s national security secretary, Sergio Berni, said that police received an alert a week ago from Interpol of a possible plot to attack the center. The suspect was arrested Tuesday at an Internet cafe in Buenos Aires by the Anti-Terrorist Division of the Federal Police.

Berni declined to provide additional details other than to say that 1,500 security personnel had been deployed to 99 sites in the last week, which coincided with the Jewish High Holidays season. After a bomb threat posted on Facebook last week, the Sociedad Hebraica was evacuated last Thursday night (October 2) and was closed the following day (on the eve of Yom Kippur)  for security reasons.

“We are very satisfied by the actions of the police and the Justice Ministry in this case,” Julio Schlosser, the president of Argentina’s Jewish political umbrella group, DAIA, told local media.

The news will increase fears that Jewish institutions in Argentina are soft targets for attack by Iranian-backed terrorist groups. Buenos Aires was the site of two major attacks on Jewish sites in the 1990s. A 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy killed 29. The 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center – the single worst anti-Semitic atrocity since the Holocaust – left 85 dead.

The final decision to attack the AMIA center was allegedly made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – another leading Iranian figure who is frequently portrayed as a moderate. Alberto Nisman, the Argentinian prosecutor investigating the AMIA bombing, has said that Jewish institutions are the “first target” for Iranian terrorist attacks on foreign soil.

The Argentinian government is presently under scrutiny for its reluctance to pursue the five Iranian citizens suspected of planning the AMIA attack, among them Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s Defense Minister at the time and a former senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Mohsen Rabbani, widely regarded as the architect of Iran’s growing terror network across Latin America.

Writing in the latest edition of The Tower, a magazine on Middle Eastern affairs published by the Washington, DC-based advocacy group The Israel Project, Eamonn MacDonagh, a writer based in Buenos Aires, highlighted President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s strong criticism of the Argentinian Jewish community  “for opposing a failed pact with Iran that would have set up a joint investigation into the massacre with the Islamic Republic.”

“For the victims of the AMIA attack, the survivors, and the Argentine Jewish community in general, it is unlikely that justice will ever be served. Abandoned by successive governments, rebuked by their own president, and regarded with suspicion and contempt by some of their own compatriots, they have suffered the double tragedy of an atrocity compounded by injustice,” MacDonagh concluded.

Commenting on the news of today’s arrest, MacDonagh told The Algemeiner that “it’s impossible to judge the seriousness of the threat based on the information we currently have.” However, MacDonagh continued, “the government is determined to make a major display of its commitment to protecting Jewish life and property, a commitment notably absent in the case of AMIA, which was an attack that was actually carried out.”

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