Could Iran Have Assisted Argentine Prosecutor's "Suicide"?
The accusations Alberto Nisman was set to make were harmful to Iran's interests. And the known intelligence superpower is expert at disposing of its enemies. Many in Argentina doubt that Monday's death was a suicide at all.
BUENOS AIRES — Shortly after the 1994 Buenos Aires bomb attack on the AMIA Jewish center, U.S. intelligence agencies said the attack had been ordered by the Quds Force, an agency of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and implemented by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia backed by Iran.
The explanation at the time from Iran was that the culprits were members of the opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a Marxist militia that had played a key role in the 1979 revolution against the Shah but had later run afoul of the Shia clerics who took power after the revolution.
The MEK was supposedly financed at the time by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and took the blame for everything bad that happened in Iran. That was at the start, before everything became mixed up, and internal and external "clues" began to emerge. What was always clear, though, was that Iran's intelligence services were perfectly prepared to undertake an attack of this scale, and had always engaged in eliminating anyone considered an enemy with the subtlety and perfection previously shown by the likes of the British MI5 and MI6 security services.
Given Iran's record, the intelligence community worldwide is now wondering about the possibility — entirely theoretical at the moment — that Iranian agents or their allies might have had some role in Monday's death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, which authorities are calling a suicide. Most agree that the accusations he was about to make public would have been harmful to Iranian interests.
Questions abound. Could Iranian intelligence have pushed Nisman into suicide by threatening to kill one of his children? Did they have information that was damaging to the prosecutor? Did they penetrate the security cordon of Nisman's residential block in the Puerto Madero district, using an agent who could stage a suicide without raising suspicions?
None of this is likely to be clarified anytime soon. The mystery surrounding the inquiry of the AMIA bombing has dragged on for more than 20 years. But these are questions national and international intelligence agencies should still try to answer.
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Remains of the AMIA after the 1994 AMIA bombing — Photo: Cambalachero
For 30 years now, Iran's intelligence agency has gained a reputation around the world for its ability to undertake actions like the one subject to speculation here. It is believed to have at least 30,000 agents and a Tehran university where it recruits and trains new spies. The Iranian intelligence ministry is currently headed by Mahmoud Alavi, who supervises 16 different agencies.
Eyes all around
Beside these, the Quds Force has its own intelligence services, and all of these work under the direct and unique supervision of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While their main objective is to "defend" the 1979 revolution and the theocracy it imposed, Iran also has regional and sectarian interests. The Iranians adhere to the Shia branch of Islam (representing 20% of all Muslims, the remainder being Sunnis) and maintain strategic alliances with other Shias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Iranian agents coordinate their actions with these groups. In recent years, the intelligence ministry has devoted all its forces to safeguarding Iran's nuclear program, which Western states and Israel see as a threat to global security. But in the 1980s and 1990s, the ministry's "specialty" was to assassinate opponents and attack Israeli and Western targets. From its offices in northern Tehran, the ministry ordered the deaths of hundreds of dissidents living as far apart as Bethesda, Maryland, and Geneva, Switzerland. Many of the dead were said to have "committed suicide." The "cleansing" then came home, as certain prominent intellectuals began to die off in Iran. Apparently, they too had decided to end their lives.
Iranian agents have bases around the world. There are reports of an important one in Vienna, Austria. In 2011, the German government denounced persecution of Iranians on its territory by these agents. They may even have blackmailed a British spy, Anne Singleton, into spying for Iran. Iran has shown an interest in Latin America in recent years, with reports of informants working in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Brazil and Ecuador.
And naturally, the country has excellent intelligence on what's going on in Argentina and the interests it wishes to safeguard.