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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Argentina seeks arrests of Iranians over bombing

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Nov 9 (Reuters) - An Argentine judge ordered international arrest warrants on Thursday for former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and eight other over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center.

The order by federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral came some two weeks after Argentine prosecutors formally accused the Iranian government of masterminding the attack that killed 85 people and wounded more than 200.

Tehran has denied any involvement in the blast on July 18, 1994, when a truck laden with explosives leveled the seven-story Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building, a symbol of the country's Jewish community -- Latin America's largest.

Argentine judicial officials did not immediately comment on the warrants, copies of which were obtained by Reuters.

Dr. Mohsen Vaharvand, Iran's ambassador in Argentina, said Iranian officials would urge Interpol not to act on the warrants.

"We will not recognize this and will urge Interpol to do the same," he told Reuters, calling the investigation politically motivated.

No one has been convicted of carrying out the attack despite a lengthy probe beset by irregularities, but Argentine, Israeli and U.S. officials have long blamed the bombing on Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Iran.

The attack was one of two targeting Argentina's Jewish community during the 1990s. A March 1992 blast at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people, a case that also remains unsolved.

In court documents, Argentine prosecutors say the AMIA attack could have been tied to Argentina's decision to stop providing Iran with nuclear technology and materials.

Several former Rafsanjani aides were also being sought including former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and former Commander of the Revolutionary Guard Mohsen Reza, plus three other former officials from the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires at the time of the bombing.

A former Hezbollah foreign security chief was also wanted by Argentine authorities for questioning.

Rafsanjani was Iran's president from 1989 to 1997 and remains a powerful figure, having held most of the country's top political positions, including speaker of the parliament and armed forces commander.

It is not the first time his government has been accused of organizing a deadly attack.

In 1997, a German court ruled Iran's political leadership had ordered the 1992 killings of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents at a Berlin restaurant -- a case that led to a diplomatic rift between Germany and Iran.

The German court said the killings were ordered by a secret special operations committee whose members included the Iranian president and three other officials.
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