Argentina to lobby UN over Jewish centre bomb: Death toll reaches 96 in Buenos Aires as authorities come under fire for ignoring warnings

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The Independent Online
THE ARGENTINE Foreign Minister, Guido di Tella, reports to the UN Security Council tomorrow on the bombing of a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires on 18 July, in which 96 people were killed and 40 are missing, feared dead. Of the wounded, 52 are being treated in hospital for their injuries and 179 have left hospital after receiving treatment. The authorities have gathered 19 bags of remains from the rubble of the building, which they estimate accounts for 10 people.

The attack far exceeds that on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992, in which 29 people were killed - and indeed anything that afflicted Argentina during decades of military dictatorship and guerrilla war. It prompted President Carlos Menem to set up an all-powerful Security Secretariat to take control of all police and security services. This worries many in Argentina whose experience is that such bodies have served to terrorise rather than protect their own citizens.

The latest attack has laid bare the government's negligence - the Buenos Aires Herald calls it incompetence - in investigating the embassy bombing, whose perpetrators were never found. In recent weeks, a number of intelligence reports warning of a big attack after the end of the World Cup were ignored by the authorities.

No barriers protected the Jewish building, and despite no-entry signs, many cars were parked beside it. A car bomb driven by a suicide driver probably caused the blast, which produced a four-metre wide crater as well as destroying the building. Among those killed were Jewish visitors to the building, passers-by and nearby building workers. Police last night detained the owner of a delivery van.

Accompanying Mr Di Tella to New York will be his deputy, Fernando Petrella, who spoke on Monday to the Iranian ambassador in Buenos Aires, Hadi Soliman Pour. According to the Argentine daily, Pagina 12, government sources believe Mr Soliman Pour was connected with terrorist operations in Europe. The newspaper says that Mr Soliman Pour, the cultural attache at the Iranian embassy in Madrid until 1989, was asked to leave Spain because security services there believed he may have been responsible for activating terrorist cells of Hizbollah in Europe.

Judge Juan Jose Galeano, who is leading the investigation into last week's attack, returned from Venezuela on Monday night, where he had spoken to an Iranian diplomat, Monoussaeh Moatamer, who had defected.

President Menem, has characteristically seized the opportunity to concentrate more power in his own hands and has promptly installed his own man, retired Air Force Brigadier Andres Antonietti, as security supremo.

(Photograph omitted)