BUENOS AIRES -- An Argentine prosecutor yesterday sought the arrest of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, accusing him of approving the 1994 car bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital.
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman charged that six other Iranians and a Lebanese were involved in the attack, including a top Hezbollah figure, Imad Fayez Mugniyah. Mugniyah is already wanted by the United States for allegedly plotting the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner, which resulted in the murder of US Navy diver Robert Stethem.
Nisman said the accused met on Aug. 13, 1993, in Mashad, one of Iran's holiest cities, to approve the attack. He said the plot involved top political officials in Iran with lower-level diplomats in the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires.
"It wasn't a decision taken around a coffee table one day to the next by five or six gentlemen," said Nisman. He called it a well-calculated plan that was part of a "terrorist matrix" which included assassinations in France, Germany, and Switzerland.
Nisman is the first Argentine official to publicly accuse officials in Tehran of involvement in the attack, which many here consider the Argentine equivalent of Sept. 11, and his charges lend credence to longstanding American claims that Iran and Hezbollah are sponsors of international terrorism.
They aren't likely to result in arrests soon. Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral must first approve Nisman's findings and issue arrest warrants. Then Argentina would have to seek the suspects' extradition from Iran -- a request Iran is unlikely to honor.
Warrants could, however, prevent the suspects from traveling freely outside Iran; they'd be subject to arrest under international police agreements.
Nisman, who spoke to reporters in Buenos Aires, released few details of his investigation. A full report was given to Canicoba on a CD because of the volume of the material. It's unknown when Canicoba will rule on the matter.
How Nisman traced the bombing to a specific meeting attended by Rafsanjani is also unknown. In Washington, Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of counterterrorism operations and analysis for the CIA, said he doesn't know of anyone who can confirm the meeting.
"From an intelligence point of view, we know Mugniyah directed the operation," Cannistraro said. "There's been no confirmation of any meeting."
Rafsanjani was the president of Iran from 1989 to 1997 and remains a powerful political force there. He ran for president last year but was defeated by the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He currently serves as chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, a powerful body that attempts to resolve policy differences between the government and the clerics who must approve all government actions.
Rafsanjani also was the go-between in the arms-for-hostages deals that gave rise to the Iran-contra affair during Ronald Reagan's presidency.