A Hezbollah militant has been identified as the suicide bomber who flattened a Jewish community center in 1994, killing 85 people in Argentina’s worst terrorist attack, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the breakthrough in the 11-year-old case came when investigators traveled to Detroit, where friends and relatives identified Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a Lebanese citizen, in a photograph.
Hussein Berro, a 21-year-old Lebanese citizen who “belonged to Hezbollah,” was driving the van packed with explosives July 18, 1994, when it exploded outside the Argentine Israeli Mutual Aid Association, prosecutor Alberto Nisman alleged.
The blast leveled the seven-story building, a symbol of Argentina’s more than 200,000-strong Jewish population.
Argentine investigators had faced domestic and international pressure to make headway in the case.
Hussein Berro had been identified as the suspected bomber in a resolution passed on July 22, 2004, by the U.S. House of Representatives that urged a solution to the case. The resolution said that Hussein Berro reportedly had been in contact with the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires.
Iran had no immediate comment on the latest developments.
Other anti-Semitic attacks in Argentina
The Jewish center bombing was the second of two attacks 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 has also been blamed on Hezbollah. Hezbollah has denied responsibility for both bombings.
Leaders of Argentina’s Jewish community accused Iran of organizing the attack. Tehran repeatedly has denied that.
Nisman said Wednesday that suspicions of Iranian involvement in the attack was among several lines of investigation.
Investigators believe the attacker entered Argentina in the tri-border region at the joint borders of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, a center of drug smuggling and alleged terrorist fund-raising, Nisman said.
For years, the Jewish community pressured Argentine law enforcement for progress in finding those responsible for the attack on the community center, which also wounded more than 200 people.
President Nestor Kirchner came into office more than two years ago promising to redouble efforts to find and prosecute the pepetrators.
But some here saw little new in Wednesday’s announcement.
“It doesn’t seem to me that there’s anything here that’s new and relevant,” leading Argentine political analyst, Rosendo Fraga, told The Associated Press.
However, Daniel Berliner, a spokesman for the Jewish community, said Wednesday’s announcement was encouraging.
A statement said prosecutors and Argentine intelligence officers worked with the FBI and anti-terrorism authorities in Detroit, where Nisman said two brothers of Hussein Berro were living and were key to his identification.
Evidence pointed toward Berro
Nisman said Argentine investigators went to Detroit in mid-September and obtained testimony from the brothers.
Additionally, Nisman said Hezbollah announced on radio in Lebanon on Sept. 8, 1994, that one Ibrahim Hussein Berro had died in combat with the Israeli army in Southern Lebanon. He alleged the announcement was an attempt to cover up the suspect’s death in the suicide bombing.
Some speculated that the bombing was inspired by Argentina’s support for the U.S.-led coalition that expelled Iraq from Kuwait during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Others said that Argentina’s Jewish community, one of the largest in Latin America, represented an obvious target for Israel’s opponents.
Although Jewish community leaders and others have suspected the involvement of Middle East terrorists, no mastermind has been identified and the victims and their families have become increasingly bitter.
In 2004, about a dozen former police officers and an accused trafficker in stolen vehicles were acquitted of charges that they had formed a “local connection” in the bombing. Jewish activists continued to press for the identification of the “masterminds.”