updated 9/2/2004 6:45:57 PM ET 2004-09-02T22:45:57

A federal court acquitted five men Thursday of being accessories to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people, the deadliest terrorist attack on Argentine soil.

In a nationally televised verdict, a three-judge panel cleared four former provincial police officers and a former used car salesman accused of supplying the van used in the attack, which also injured about 300 people.

The verdict concluded a three-year trial — the longest in Argentine history. The five were not accused of direct involvement in the bombing but were charged as accomplices for their parts in a stolen car ring responsible for the sale and delivery of the van.

Prosecutors had sought life sentences; they had no immediate reaction to the verdict.

The rigged van exploded July 18, 1994, outside the Argentine Israeli Mutual Aid Association. The explosion leveled the seven-story building, a symbol of Argentina’s 300,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Latin America. The masterminds of the attack were never identified.

It was the second of two bombings targeting Jews in Argentina during the 1990s. A March 1992 blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people in a case that remains unsolved.

Jewish and Argentine officials have charged the community center bombing was linked to Islamic fundamentalists and pro-Iranian terrorists, charges denied by Tehran.

After failing to extradite Iranian suspects wanted in the case, investigators have instead focused on what has been called “the local connection.”

Legal experts have described the trial as the longest in the country’s history. More than 1,200 witnesses were summoned or submitted written testimony during the non-jury trial.

Jewish community leaders attended the trial in a packed federal courthouse in downtown Buenos Aires, tightly guarded by police and closed off to the public.

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