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Iran role in Argentina bombing examined

Iran role in Argentina bombing examined
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer
Mon Nov 5, 2:45 PM ET

Iran has backed away from an effort to stop an Interpol vote on putting five Iranians and a Lebanese man on the international police agency's most wanted list for a 1994 bombing in Argentina that killed 85 people, an Interpol official said Monday.

Iran's decision clears the way for a vote on the issue at the three-day Interpol general assembly that began Monday in Marrakech, Morocco.

Delegates will be asked to adjudicate in a dispute between Interpol members Iran and Argentina over the July 18, 1994, bombing when an explosives-laden van leveled the seven-story Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

Argentine prosecutors allege Iranian officials orchestrated the bombing and entrusted the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah to carry it out.

Prosecutors in Argentina say they have enough evidence for Interpol's 186-member general assembly to approve "red" notices for the six suspects which means they are wanted for possible extradition.

While the red notice does not force countries to arrest or extradite suspects, people with red-notice status appear on Interpol's equivalent of a most-wanted list.

Many frustrated relatives of the victims are looking for support from Interpol because there have been no convictions 13 years after the attack.

"I believe that insofar as any of them can be brought to Argentina to testify, that would be helpful," Diana Malamud, who lost her husband in the bombing, said of the progress toward an Interpol vote. "But I see it would be very difficult."

In the run-up to the gathering, Iran had sought to delay the issue until next year, said an Interpol official on condition of anonymity because of agency policy. But the government did not formalize such a request as the meeting opened.

The vote on whether to issue wanted notices is expected Wednesday. A simple majority from delegates is needed for approval.

A vote against Iran could be a powerful symbol at a time of high tension with the United States and other Western powers suspicious that the country is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. The United States also alleges Iran is supplying insurgents in Iraq with deadly weapons that kill American troops. Iran denies both claims.

Authorities in Argentina say the case is not political. But Iran's ambassador to Argentina has accused the United States and Israel of pressuring Interpol.

"We do believe the government of Argentina and Interpol should distance themselves from the political approach. Interpol should protect its technical and legal nature and not to allow others to have political influence (on the case)," the spokesman of Iran's Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said Monday.

Whatever the outcome, Iran would be unlikely to hand over any suspect to Argentina.

Among those wanted by Argentina are former Iranian intelligence chief Ali Fallahian, former leader of the elite Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezaei and Hezbollah militant Imad Moughnieh, one of the world's most sought terror suspects.

Moughnieh is wanted for his alleged role in the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s, and suicide attacks on the U.S. Embassy and a Marine base in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans. His whereabouts are unknown.

The Buenos Aires attack shook the South American country's 200,000-member Jewish community, Latin America's largest. It came just two years after a bombing that shattered Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29.

Victims' relatives have complained for years that the investigation was bungled. Amid allegations he paid a key witness, the investigating judge on the case was removed and later impeached.

The case poses one of the toughest challenges for the international police liaison group based in Lyon, France, which mostly deals with routine police requests.
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