On July 18, it will be 22 years since a suicide bomber destroyed the headquarters of the Argentinean Jewish community in Buenos Aires (AMIA), killing 85 people and wounding hundreds. Two years earlier, the Israeli Embassy in the same city was destroyed.
In none of the cases has anybody been punished. Based on the findings the late Argentinean prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, Hezbollah along with its’ Iranian proxy were responsible for the attack. A day before he was to reveal his findings to the Argentinean Congress he was found dead with a bullet to his head.
We have spoken a lot about the corruption involving the case and the complicity of the Argentinean government in covering it up. Argentina even tried to involve Iran in the investigation alleging that would help resolve the case. To the contrary, the government only tried to normalize relations with Iran, considering the country to be a symbol of resistance against U.S. hegemony.
From another angle, I would say that the attack on AMIA was the precursor of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in the heart of the United States as well as terrorist attacks that are taking place nowadays in Western Europe, Turkey, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and possibly future terrorist attacks that will take place elsewhere in the world.
To be sure suicide bombings have been taking place in the Middle East since the Iran/Iraq war. This type of warfare was introduced by Iran during that war and then applied in Lebanon against the Israelis, American marines and French peacekeepers by its proxy Hezbollah. Hezbollah began to carry out these attacks since the early 1980’s and quickly became a role model for other terrorist groups. Hamas has been using suicide bombers against Israel since 1989.
What was new about the attack on AMIA was that it was the first such attack in a crowded urban center outside of and far, far away from the Middle East.
Yet, it did not raise much concern in the Western world.
The United States, under domestic pressure from the organized Jewish community, expressed some interest in the case. The U.S. Government sent security delegations and held hearings in Congress but ultimately it decided not to focus too much on the case because no Americans were among the victims. The Europeans submerged in a sea of indifference and other Latin American countries did not view the issue as a priority.
But Al Qaeda quickly learned from the AMIA terrorist attack.
The AMIA case displayed ineptitude and corruption on the part of the Argentinean system to investigate and to hold the perpetrators responsible. Worldwide, there emerged a general apathy about finding the answers.
The morning of September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda executed the most murderous and heinous attacks on the United States at the heart of New York and Washington. The attack was far more devastating than the one on AMIA but to be sure, was inspired by the Iran/Hezbollah type of attacks.
It is known that Iran and Al Qaeda, despite both representing different sects (Iran is Shiite and Al Qaeda is Sunni), have cooperated at least since the mid 1990’s when Iran provided training to Al Qaeda operatives. Despite their sectarian differences and an element of tension, cooperation between the two groups was based on their mutual antipathy and hostility towards the United States. Iran even harbored Al Qaeda refugees after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, including senior Al Qaeda figures.
According to testimonies from former CIA officers including Clare Lopez, now Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy, Iran provided training, logistical, and financial support, which enabled Al-Qaeda to carry out the 9/11 attacks. These agents also assert that cooperation between the two enabled the attacks on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Eastern Africa in 1998 and the attack on the U.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.
Following the Hezbollah/Al Qaeda method, the Islamic State (ISIS) is now carrying out attacks in urban population centers, including Brussels, Paris, Nice and Istanbul with the goal of maximizing the killing of innocent people and creating panic. The terrorists have learned the know-how of how to cause pain and now are involved in a war against the West. It is becoming almost impossible to live a normal life in Europe today and the rest of the world is not safe either.
Since ISIS has the capacity to attack anywhere in the world, Latin America may be a perfect target for the group.
To begin with, corruption abounds in Latin America. Finding local cooperators and fixers is less and less of a problem. In a recent and thorough report by Joseph Humire from the Center to Secure A Free Society details emerge on how Iran has penetrated Latin America through commercial enterprises by taking over local Arab and Muslim associations, and by establishing “local fixers” that set up the logistics and establish a relation with different governments. Let us remember that in a terrorist organization, a diplomat or a businessman may also be part of a terrorist cell. Furthermore, Humire argues that the disappearance of prosecutor Alberto Nisman has undermined the main source of information and evidence about terrorist activity not only in Argentina but also in the rest of Latin America. Thus, according to Humire, the main block against terrorist activities has been eliminated.
ISIS can definitely penetrate Latin America in the same way Iran has done. It can take advantage of corruption, cooperate with drug traffickers, and take advantage of the lack of will and ineptitude on the part of local authorities. Argentina has demonstrated already how its police and legal system have failed to investigate the AMIA case. Likewise, the mysterious death of Nisman also showed the terrorists that the government had more of an interest in getting rid of those fighting for justice rather than those fighting against terrorism. Along the same lines, Brazil does not recognize terrorism directly in its lexicon and has done very little on the matter. It refuses to control the tri-border area as it should. However, after the terrorist attacks in Europe, Brazil began to take terrorism more seriously as it prepared to receive 600,000 foreign visitors for the upcoming Olympic Games.
We hope that with the coming to power of new governments in both Argentina and Brazil, more attention is paid to this issue. But it is also up to the United States and the West to pressure these countries and make them part of a global fight against terrorism.
In fact, last March, a lone individual who converted from Catholicism to Islam and was mentally disturbed, murdered a Jewish leader in a remote town in Uruguay. It is reasonable to assume that the man was indoctrinated via social media by radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. Yet, within days Uruguay’s Interior Minister ruled out the possibility that the murder was connected to radical Islam. To my knowledge, the investigation did not go any further. This shows the extent of the problem in Latin America and why the region could be a paradise for terrorist activities.
The war against terror requires unity of the West (including Latin America) with the support of moderate Arab and Muslim entities. This requires leadership the United States needs to take.
Since terrorist attacks are likely to multiply rather than recede, an effective show of unity to prevent further attacks would be the best homage we could pay to the victims of AMIA, 9/11, Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Bangladesh, and Nice.