Commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Terrorist Bombing of the AMIA in Buenos Aires
NATHAN A. SALES, ACTING UNDER SECRETARY FOR CIVILIAN SECURITY, DEMOCRACY, AND HUMAN RIGHTS
THE WILSON CENTER AND THE FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES
THE FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES
JULY 12, 2019
Thank you to the Wilson Center and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies for hosting this important event and for inviting me to speak in honor of this sad and solemn occasion. I’m pleased that we’re joined by my good friends Fernando Oris de Roa, Argentina’s Ambassador to the U.S., and Benji Krasna, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. And thank you as well to Miguel Bronfman, AMIA’s chief lawyer, for traveling here for the event today.
Next Thursday, July 18, will mark 25 years since the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina – or AMIA – was bombed in Buenos Aires. I’m here today to speak about the victims and to honor their memory. I’m also here to speak about the perpetrators, and to tell you what we’re doing to prevent future atrocities like this.
This bombing was carried out by the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah, with Iranian support and direction. In attacking AMIA, these terrorists targeted not just Argentina, but all of us who call the Western Hemisphere home. We will never forget this attack. And every day we work to ensure that no further such attacks occur. That’s why Argentina, in cooperation with the United States, will host a ministerial meeting next week to bolster our collective efforts to protect this hemisphere from the scourge of terrorism.
The victims of this horrific attack – 85 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured – were both native-born Argentines and immigrants. They were Catholic and Jewish, religious and secular. They were intellectuals and workers, doctors and janitors, lawyers and students. They had names. They had families, they had children, they had friends. They had plans for the future, which for them never came.
Let us honor the memories of those tragically lost. The youngest AMIA victim, Sebastian Barreiro, was five – he died holding his mother’s hand as they walked in front of the building. The oldest victim, Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament, was 73 and a tailor.
Let us remember Martin Figuero. He was a contractor. He planned to use the money he made working on the AMIA building to take his family on vacation. He left behind a wife and six children.
Twenty-one year old Paola Czyzewski was a law student. She was visiting the AMIA for the first time, to meet up with her mother.
Fifty-six year-old Jacobo Chemanuel was buried in the rubble for 36 hours alongside Martin Cano. Jacobo encouraged Martin to hold on, despite the incredible pain he felt. Martin survived; Jacobo did not.
The body of 19-year-old Augusto Daniel Jesus was not identified until 2016, the last victim to be named. His mother, Maria Lourdes Jesus, also died in the blast.
Let us pause for a moment of silence as we remember all the victims of this cowardly attack.
The AMIA bombing wasn’t Hizballah’s first attack on Argentina. In 1992, Hizballah bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and wounding 242 more. Besides the Embassy, a Catholic church, a school, and a home for the elderly were destroyed. Most of the victims were Argentinian citizens, and many of them were children. Among the dead was Father Juan Carlos Brumana, who died in the rubble of his church.
As Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri emphasized two years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the Embassy bombing, “It is necessary to understand that it was not an attack on the Embassy or Jews, but against Argentina.” Indeed it was.
The evidence in both cases points clearly at Hizballah. But why would a Lebanon-based terror group, which purports to be a defender of Lebanon, attack targets in South America, particularly Argentina? Argentina hadn’t taken any actions against Hizballah. Argentina hadn’t taken any actions that harmed Lebanon.
The reason, of course, is that the group’s patron – Iran – wanted to attack Argentina. And that was all that was needed.
Secretary Pompeo recently emphasized that “Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.” It was true in 1994 and it’s true now. The leaders in Tehran endorsed the attack. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, provided funding and logistical support. And Hizballah, long the IRGC’s most capable proxy, carried out the operation.
We have joined President Macri and the Argentine government in seeking justice for the victims of the AMIA attack and their families. Iran has a responsibility to repudiate terrorism and cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in this investigation.
Twenty-five years later, we’re still waiting. There are still six INTERPOL Red Notices outstanding – based on criminal charges in Argentina – for the arrest of Iranians and Hizballah members suspected of participating in the AMIA attack. These include several senior Iranian officials:
–Ahmad Vahidi, the former IRGC-Qods Force commander and defense minister;
–Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the IRGC;
–and Ali Fallahian, the former Minister of Intelligence.
There are also INTERPOL Red Notices for Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Asghari, who served at Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires, and for Hizballah operative Samuel Raouf Salman.
It’s also appropriate today to reflect on prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s heroic efforts to investigate the AMIA bombing. In 2004, Nisman took over an investigation that had been plagued by mismanagement and corruption. He pursued the case doggedly and tenaciously over the next 11 years, in an effort to get to the bottom of this deadly attack. Nisman faced obstacles at every turn – he received death threats against himself and his children. He was undaunted in his pursuit of the truth up to the very day he was murdered in 2015. We continue to stress the importance of resolving the circumstances of his tragic death and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the AMIA bombing he so assiduously investigated.
It’s been a quarter century since the AMIA bombing, yet the threats from Iran, the IRGC, and Hizballah remain undiminished. The regime in Tehran continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars every year to terrorists across the world. It has provided Hizballah alone some $700 million a year. It does this despite ongoing economic turmoil that’s impoverishing many of its people. Tehran’s priorities are clear. It doesn’t seek to boost economic growth at home, or to reduce Iran’s growing unemployment. What the regime prioritizes is buying guns and bombs to export terror.
We’ve talked about Hizballah plots in Argentina in the 1990s. This is far from a historical matter, however, as Hizballah continues to have our hemisphere squarely in its sights today.
One of Hizballah’s highest placed collaborators in the region has been Tareck El Aissami, former Vice President under the Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro. When he was head of Venezuela’s passport agency, he was suspected of providing Venezuelan passports to Hizballah operatives. Hizballah’s propaganda machine now touts him as a possible successor to Maduro, calling him “a strong man in the shadows and a close friend of the Lebanese resistance and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
Apparently that’s supposed to be a compliment.
This Administration doesn’t see it that way. In 2017, the Treasury Department listed El Aissami as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker under the Kingpin Act.
Another example is Mohammed Hamdar, an alleged Hizballah member who was arrested in 2014 and is currently on trial in Peru on terrorism charges. Assad Ahmad Barakat, a key Hizballah financier, is now sitting in jail in Brazil, awaiting extradition to Paraguay on several criminal charges. Then there’s Nader Farhat, a Hizballah supporter who was recently extradited from Paraguay to the U.S. to face federal money laundering charges in Florida.
More broadly, the Tri-Border-Area of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil continues to be a node of Hizballah activity. For decades, Hizballah has taken advantage of the loosely regulated region to raise money and plan possible attacks. We assess that some of the planning for the AMIA bombing took place there.
Hizballah is also active right here in the United States. In 2017, the FBI arrested two Hizballah operatives – Samir el-Debek and Ali Kourani – in Michigan and New York, respectively. El-Debek allegedly was surveilling potential targets at Hizballah’s direction in Panama, including the Panama Canal. Kourani spent years surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities. He was just convicted by a jury in New York for his crimes.
Indeed, Hizballah and its Iranian patron spread terrorism across the globe. From attacks against our diplomatic facilities in Iraq, to planning terror in African countries such as Kenya and Nigeria – from plots against its Gulf neighbors, to planning bombings and assassinations in Europe – no place is safe from Iran’s malevolent reach.
Hizballah has operatives, financiers, front companies, and other assets in Lebanon, in the Gulf, in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, and here in the Western Hemisphere. In recent years, Hizballah operatives have been caught preparing attacks as far afield as Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cyprus, Egypt, Peru, and Thailand. Its weapons caches have been discovered in the Gulf, in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa. Hizballah likes to masquerade as a defender of the Lebanese people, but these actions reveal its true agenda: global terrorism.
In 2012, Hizballah bombed a bus in Bulgaria, killing five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian citizen. That attack also took place on July 18 – and so Argentina and Bulgaria now share a bloody anniversary. As we remember the victims of this deadly plot, we also call on Bulgaria to complete the trial of the Hizballah members charged in absentia, consistent with its domestic law.
Let me tell you what the Administration is doing to crack down on Hizballah and other Iran-backed terrorists – both around the globe and here in our hemisphere.
Under the leadership of President Trump, we’ve intensified our counterterrorism efforts against Iran, the IRGC, and Hizballah worldwide. Most notably, in April, Secretary Pompeo took the unprecedented step of designating the IRGC, including its Qods Force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO. This was the first time we’ve designated part of a government as an FTO. The U.S. government now formally acknowledges the reality that the IRGC doesn’t just finance and promote terrorism. It actively engages in terrorist activity as a tool of statecraft.
To counter Hizballah, we’re using law enforcement and financial tools to disrupt its networks. We’re targeting its financial resources and squeezing it out of the international financial system. We’re hitting its wallet and will deny it the funds it needs to commit terrorism around the world. The U.S. government has designated over 150 entities and individuals tied to Hizballah, including more than 50 since last year.
The State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program recently offered up to $10 million for information leading to the disruption of Hizballah’s financial mechanisms. This was the first time we’ve issued an RFJ reward focused solely on Hizballah financing. It was an important step in our maximum pressure campaign against Tehran and its terrorist proxies.
In 2017, the State Department issued RFJ offers for two Hizballah leaders with American blood on their hands – Talal Hamiyah and Fuad Shukr. Shukr is a senior military commander who played a central role in Hizballah’s 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American service members. Hamiyah is the head of Hizballah’s External Security Organization – their global terrorist arm – which is responsible for the group’s long campaign of terrorism around the world. These were the first RFJs targeting Hizballah in more than a decade.
We’ve also sanctioned Jawad Nasrallah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Jawad Nasrallah is the son of Hizballah’s Secretary General and a Hizballah leader in his own right. And in recent weeks, the U.S. has designated Hizballah’s security and intelligence chiefs, along with two Hizballah members of the Lebanese parliament.
Our sanctions are starving Iran, the IRGC, and Hizballah of the money they need to promote terrorism worldwide. This Administration is using every tool at our disposal to dismantle Hizballah’s global financing network, including its participation in drug trafficking and other crimes.
The good news is that Hizballah is feeling the pinch. As our sanctions on the Iranian regime have taken hold, Hizballah has had to tighten its belt. The group’s Secretary General is now publicly asking for donations. “The resistance needs your support,” he said. We will continue to increase the financial pressure and impose costs on the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies until they abandon their malign and outlaw behavior.
In this hemisphere, we’re actively working with our partners to counter Iranian and Hizballah terrorism. We’re partnering with key multilateral players like the Organization of American States and the 15-member Caribbean Community, or CARICOM. We also have robust bilateral cooperation throughout the region, including with Argentina, Panama, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.
Next week, we’ll intensify our efforts at a Counterterrorism Ministerial in Buenos Aires – a follow up to a similar session held in Washington last December. We applaud Argentine President Macri and his Administration for their leadership in hosting this meeting. President Macri well knows the cost of Iran-backed terrorism. He has courageously renewed Argentina’s resolve to never suffer another such attack. And he has determined to reopen the investigation of the 1992 and 1994 bombings and bring the perpetrators to justice.
In Buenos Aires, we’ll discuss how to bolster our counterterrorism capabilities and work together to build partnerships, to strengthen security, and to eliminate gaps. We’ll continue to seek ways to block terrorist travel and cut off the flow of money to these groups. And we’ll discuss the need to attack the nexus between transnational crime and terrorism. We’ll also be making some additional announcements in Buenos Aires. So stay tuned.
One of the lessons from the Argentina bombings a quarter century ago is that no country is safe from terrorism. And so we all have a stake in ridding the world of this scourge.
The only way we can secure ourselves – the only way we can prevent mourning more people like Sebastian Barreiro, Paola Czyzewski, and Father Brumana – is by cooperating closely, working together for our joint security. And by facing the threat openly and honestly.