US charges alleged Hezbollah member over 1994 Buenos Aires bombing

The bombing of a Jewish community centre killed 85 people, and Hezbollah has been accused of other attacks in Argentina.

A man walks past a board with the names of the victims of the bombing alongside "memory and justice".
A man walks past a board that says in Spanish: "Memory and Justice" with the names of people who died in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish centre at the site of the 1994 attack in Buenos Aires, Argentina [File: Natacha Pisarenko/AP Photo]

The United States has charged an alleged Hezbollah member, Samuel Salman El Reda, with giving material support to a “terrorist group”, accusing him of providing assistance for a 1994 bombing in Argentina.

Federal prosecutors announced charges against the 58-year-old on Wednesday, linking El Reda to the truck bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.

“This indictment serves as a message to those who engage in acts of terror: that the Justice Department’s memory is long, and we will not relent in our efforts to bring them to justice,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the US Department of Justice’s National Security Division said in a press release.

the aftermath of a truck bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires
Rescue workers search for survivors and victims in the rubble left when a car bomb destroyed the Buenos Aires headquarters of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) on July 18, 1994 [File: Enrique Marcarian/Reuters]

The US has long characterised the 1994 bombing as an example of the far reach of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah, which at the time of the bombing was locked in a deadly battle with Israeli forces occupying southern Lebanon.

Iran and Hezbollah denied responsibility for the attack, which sent shockwaves through the city’s Jewish community. Small commemorative tiles with the names of those killed can still be seen on sidewalks around Buenos Aires.

US authorities said El Reda, a dual Lebanese-Colombian citizen, has helped coordinate the activities of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization in South America, Asia and Lebanon since at least 1993.

The statement from the Justice Department said El Reda is based in Lebanon and “remains at large”. The US Department of State sanctioned him in 2019 and offered $7m for information regarding his whereabouts.

The bombing remains a source of controversy in Argentina, where former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has been accused of working to shield the perpetrators of the attack through a joint investigation with Iran, which helped found and nurture Hezbollah.

Argentina has also accused Hezbollah of carrying out a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people. The country froze Hezbollah’s assets and branded it a “terrorist organisation” in 2019.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies