Argentina freezes Hezbollah assets, 25 years after AMIA attack

Argentina puts financial sanctions on members of Lebanese Islamist group and brands it a 'terrorist' organisation.

    People hold images of the victims of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre, marking the 25th anniversary of the attack [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]
    People hold images of the victims of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre, marking the 25th anniversary of the attack [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

    Authorities in Argentina have ordered the freezing of Hezbollah assets in the country and effectively designated the Lebanese Islamist group - which it blames for two attacks on its soil - a "terrorist" organisation.

    The announcement on Thursday coincided with a visit by United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as Argentina marks the 25th anniversary of the deadly bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in which 85 people died.

    Argentina blames Iran and Hezbollah for the 1994 attack, but both deny any responsibility. Argentina also blames Hezbollah for a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

    The country's investigation into the truck bomb targeting the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) has made little progress, however. No one has been brought to trial in either that case or the embassy bombing.

    Argentina's financial information unit ordered the freezing of assets for members of Hezbollah and the organisation as a whole one day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism.

    "At present, Hezbollah continues to represent a current threat to security and the integrity of the economic and financial order of the Argentine Republic," the unit said in a statement.

    The freezing of assets automatically places Hezbollah on Argentina's registry, designating it a "terrorist" organisation, a government source with direct knowledge of the action confirmed with the Reuters news agency. The designation is the first by any country in Latin America.

    'Economic pressure'

    US and Argentine officials say Hezbollah operates in what is known as the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where an illicit economy funds its operations elsewhere in the world.

    It is not yet clear whether Argentina's new designation will lead to other concrete actions against Hezbollah in the area, but some kind of US security support - including increased intelligence sharing - could follow, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center's Argentina Project in Washington.

    Argentina's decision to join the US in designating Hezbollah a "terrorist" group is a significant win for the administration of President Donald Trump - and it could put pressure on Brazil and Paraguay to follow suit, Gedan said.

    The US - looking to revive a security relationship that suffered after worsening diplomatic ties during the previous administration of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - views current Argentina President Mauricio Macri as a partner, particularly as traditional allies in Europe have been slower to offer support amid US tensions with Iran.

    "Clearly, they are not a good replacement for European allies, because they don't engage Iran significantly, so they cannot put on the same commercial and economic pressure as the Europeans," Gedan said of Washington's allies in Latin America.

    "But at least it gives the impression that the Trump administration is not standing alone," he said, adding that the US put significant pressure on Argentina to prepare the announcement in time for Pompeo's visit.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency