For the past 10 years, an Argentinian prosecutor named Alberto Nisman had been investigating a 1994 bombing at a Jewish community center that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires. This past Sunday, he was found dead in his high rise apartment with a gunshot wound to his head. Originally, the Argentinian government claimed Nisman committed suicide, but yesterday president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner reversed course in a bizarre letter that intimates Nisman was murdered.
The official explanation of Nisman's death had been questioned from the start. The prosecutor had devoted his career to solving the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentinian history, and in the process he made a number of enemies, a few of whome were members of his own government.
But it was the timing of his death that seemed particularly suspicious: Nisman's life ended the day before he was set to present a report before the country's congress detailing evidence he believed proved that current high-ranking Argentinian officials agreed to cover up Iran's involvement in the bombing in exchange for oil.
From a Wednesday New York Times article:
Intercepted conversations between representatives of the Iranian and Argentine governments point to a long pattern of secret negotiations to reach a deal in which Argentina would receive oil in exchange for shielding Iranian officials from charges that they orchestrated the bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994.
The transcripts were made public by an Argentine judge on Tuesday night, as part of a 289-page criminal complaint written by Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor investigating the attack. Mr. Nisman was found dead in his luxury apartment on Sunday, the night before he was to present his findings to Congress.
But the intercepted telephone conversations he described before his death outline an elaborate effort to reward Argentina for shipping food to Iran — and for seeking to derail the investigation into a terrorist attack in the Argentine capital that killed 85 people.
There was an obvious motive for someone—or some organization or government—to kill Nisman, and the exact circumstances of his death are equally as suspicious. Though a gun was found near Nisman's body, he left no suicide note, and further, forensics from the scene appear to not support the theory that he killed himself.
For starters, Nisman, a high-ranking Argentine prosecutor, had left no suicide note. More curiously, his cause of death⎯a gunshot to head⎯had no exit wound, giving rise to the theory that he had been shot from a distance. Next, a forensics analysis of his body determined that there were no traces of gunpowder on Nisman's fingers, constituting yet another red flag. Then, contrary to reports, a locksmith said he had found a hidden service door that had been left open when he was first called to Nisman's apartment.
If this characterization of the events is correct, it sounds like Nisman was murdered in a manner that could inspire a Bourne film, with someone breaking into his apartment to kill him and then staging the scene to appear as if it was a suicide.
But, at this point, how Nisman died is perhaps less interesting and important than the question of who might have killed him. Kirchner, according to the New York Times, wrote Thursday that Nisman was being manipulated by an unnamed group who then murdered him.
"They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead," Mrs. Kirchner wrote in the letter, which she subtitled, in part: "The suicide (that I am convinced) was not suicide."
That Kirchner, the Argentinian president, personally and publicly pushed back against the idea that Nisman killed himself seems to indicate that the country won't be standing behind the theory for much longer.
Unfortunately for Kirchner, the list of logical suspects is short, and it would have to include her government broadly...and her specifically. In her long and rambling letter, she neglects to accuse any specific person or group—simply a general "they":
Prosecutor Nisman was not made to come back only to denounce something which they knew had no grounds and could not be sustained. When journalist Sandra Russo analyzed the case in Página 12 newspaper under the heading"El truco de la confusión" [The trick of confusion], she claimed that: "They wanted to use Nisman alive and now they will use him dead". But she is wrong. They used him alive and then they needed him dead. As sad and terrible as that.
Last Wednesday, just days before his death, Nisman testified before a judge and named Kirchner as a direct negotiator in the deal that would have kept Iran's alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing secret.
"The president and her foreign minister took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran's innocence to sate Argentina's commercial, political and geopolitical interests," Nisman said.
While Argentinian officials obviously had an incentive to order Nisman's murder, they weren't the only ones: Iran, of course, was deeply implicated, as was Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that Nisman has said for years worked in concert with Iran to plan and carry out the 1994 bombing.
If Nisman was murdered, whoever did it was so desperate to have him dead that they killed him at the exact moment when his death would be the most suspicious. His evidence, at least, seems to be damning enough to cause that exact sort of panic.
The complaint asserts that the negotiators included Argentine intelligence operatives and Mohsen Rabbani, a former Iranian cultural attaché in Argentina charged with helping to coordinate the bombing.
In one transcript from 2013, an Argentine union leader and influential supporter of Mrs. Kirchner said he was acting on the orders of the "boss woman," adding that the government was open to sending a team from the national oil company to advance the negotiations.
"He's very interested in exchanging what they have for grains and beef," said the union leader, Luis D'Elía, referring to a powerful Argentine minister with whom he had just met.
Another intercept shows negotiators talking about ways to place blame for the bombing on right-wing groups and activists.
Yet another transcript includes a discussion about swapping not just Argentine grains, but weapons as well, for Iranian oil.
[imaga via AP]