Argentine president asked to help nix Iranian terror suspect’s visit to Colombia


A Jewish human rights group asked the president of Argentina to help prevent a planned visit to Colombia by an Iranian implicated in terrorism.

Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director of international relations, conveyed the request Thursday in a meeting with President Mauricio Macri at the government palace here. Mohsen Rabbani, a former Iranian cultural attaché in Argentina, is scheduled to visit Bogota as a representative of the Iranian government in a delegation seeking to increase trade.

Rabbani has been wanted by Interpol since 2007 in connection with the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. He was implicated in that attack by the Argentinean government, whose judiciary determined Iran had a role in planning and carrying it out. Eighty-five people died in the blast.

The London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported Monday Rabbani’s planned participation in the Colombia visit by officials from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“A free sanctions Iran mixed with a commercial-needy Latin America is a very dangerous combination,” Samuels said. “After the commercial missions, terror will follow.“

In recent years, Iran expanded its activity in Latin America, including the 2014 opening of a news agency based in Buenos Aires devoted to covering the continent.

Also in 2014, the Israeli government launched a three-year plan to strengthen its economic ties with five Latin American countries, including Colombia.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos received in 2012 the Shalom Prize by the World Jewish Congress. Early this year, Colombia’s ambassador to Washington, D.C., held a reception in honor of WJC President Ronald Lauder, who called Colombia a friend of Israel.

Colombia was one of only four Latin American countries that abstained from a 2012 United Nations General Assembly vote on a motion supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, which Israel opposed. Only one Latin American country, Panama, voted against the motion.

During their meeting, the Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation asked Macri to reverse Argentina’s vote in favor of a resolution passed by UNESO in April that Jewish groups and Israel said ignored the Jewish people’s ties to Jerusalem.

Report backs Nisman’s claims on Argentina-Iran conspiracy in AMIA bombing


Iran financed the 2007 campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in exchange for impunity for Iranians in the AMIA bombing, a Brazilian magazine reported.

According to Veja on Saturday, the deal brokered by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, also provided the Iranians with nuclear know-how.

“I need you to broker with Argentina for aid to my country’s nuclear program,” Iran’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told Chavez on Jan. 13, 2007, according to the testimony of three former Chavez Cabinet members who now live in the United States and are collaborating in the investigation by Argentina. “We need Argentinians to share their knowledge on nuclear technology; without this collaboration it is impossible to advance our program.

“Don’t worry about the expenses required for this operation; Iran will support everything necessary to persuade the Argentines,” Ahmadinejad added. “I have another issue. I need you to discourage the Argentinians from insisting that Interpol capture the authorities of my country.” Chavez agreed.

Six Iranians have been on the Interpol international police agency’s most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and injured hundreds.

The revelation backed the accusation made in January by the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who claimed that Kirchner decided to “not incriminate” former senior officials of Iran and tried to “erase” their roles in planning the bombing, but added that the agreement started in 2007 in Venezuela.

Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the AMIA attack and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out, but no arrests have been made in the case.

Venezuela bought $6 billion in Argentina’s bonds to cover the latter’s debt in 2007 and 2008, according to the Veja report. The Argentine government also received cash for the agreement.

One of the cooperating Venezuelan officials said that a suitcase carried by a Venezuelan-American businessman, Guido Antonioni Wilson, containing $800,000, which he brought into the country without claiming and was seized, came from the Iranian regime and was bound for the presidential campaign of Kirchner. The official said that Chavez was the middleman.

Kirchner and Chavez have denied the allegations.

Veja reported that the exchange of nuclear secrets was managed in Argentina by Minister of Defense Nilda Garre, now ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington. Iran was interested in the Argentine experience with its heavy-water nuclear reactor Atucha because it wanted to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons using only natural uranium.

“I can’t say that the government of Argentina gave nuclear secrets, but I know it took a lot by legal means and illegal means in exchange for something valuable to the Iranians,” the former officials told Veja.

Interpol team begins identifying victims of flight MH17 crash


International police agency Interpol said on Tuesday one of its teams had started identifying victims of the Malaysia Airlines MH 17 flight that crashed over Ukraine last week.

“The remains of victims recovered so far were labeled and numbered before being transported in refrigerated freight wagons from Donetsk to the designated center of operations in Kharkiv where the Interpol Incident Response Team, along with other international disaster victim identification teams in place, will carry out preliminary examinations,” the Lyon, France-based agency said in a statement.

It said that once the preliminary examinations are completed the victims will be transported to the Netherlands where fuller identification will be carried out.

Reporting By John Irish; editing by Andrew Callus

Kenya widens mall attack probe, alert for UK ‘White Widow’


Interpol issued a wanted persons alert at Kenya's request on Thursday for a British woman who has been cited by British police as a possible suspect in the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed at least 72 people.

The alert was issued as Kenyan police broadened the investigation into the weekend raid by the al Qaeda-aligned Somali al Shabaab group, the worst such assault since the U.S. Embassy was bombed in the capital by al Qaeda in 1998.

Interpol – which has joined agencies from Britain, the United States, Israel and others in the Kenyan investigation of the wrecked mall – did not say when Nairobi requested a so-called “red alert” notice for Samantha Lewthwaite, 29.

The widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005 is believed to have evaded arrest two years ago in the port city of Mombasa, where she is wanted in connection with a plot to bomb hotels and restaurants.

Interpol's “red alert” cites the previous 2011 plot.

Police in Mombasa, a tourist hub, said they were also tracking four suspected militants, following the siege of the swanky Westgate mall in Nairobi which militants stormed on Saturday armed with assault rifles and grenades.

The mall attack has demonstrated the reach of al Shabaab beyond Somalia, where Kenyan troops have joined other African forces, driving the group out of major urban areas, although it still controls swathes of the countryside.

Al Shabaab stormed the mall to demand Kenya pull its troops out, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has ruled out.

Many details of the assault are unclear, including the identity of the attackers who officials said numbered about a dozen. Speculation that Lewthwaite, dubbed the “White Widow” in the British press, was triggered by witness accounts that one of raiders was a white woman.

FORENSIC WORK

But Kenya's government and Western officials have cautioned that they cannot confirm the reports she was involved, or even that there were any women participants in the raid.

The government said five of the attackers were killed, along with at least 61 civilians and six security personnel.

Eleven suspects have been arrested in relation to the attack, but it is not clear if any took part.

Although the Red Cross lists 71 missing people, the government said it does not expect a big rise in the death toll.

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed in the siege, burying some bodies and hindering investigations, although forensic experts have started work while soldiers search for explosives. Officials said some blasts on Thursday were controlled ones.

“The army are still in there with the forensic teams,” said one senior police officer near the mall.

Mombasa police said they were tracking a network of suspects linked to al Shabaab in the coastal region, home to many of Kenya's Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the nation's 40 million people. Most Kenyans are Christians.

“We have four suspects within Mombasa who we are closely watching. They came back to the country after training in Somalia,” country police commander Robert Kitur told Reuters.

Another counter-terrorism officer, who asked not to be named, also said four suspects were being tracked and added that two well-armed suspected militants killed in an August operation could have been planning a similar attack in Mombasa.

“I will be surprised if they don't link the Nairobi attackers to those terrorists we killed in Mombasa,” he added.

DENTED IMAGE

The mall attack has dented Kenya's image as a tourist destination, damaging a vital source of revenues. But rating agency Moody's said that although the attack was “credit negative” it would not affect foreign direct investment or a planned Kenyan Eurobond later this year.

In 1998, al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy, an attack that killed more than 200 people. Since then, Kenya has faced other smaller attacks, many claimed by al Shabaab, particularly along the border region next to Somalia.

On Thursday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing two policemen in an assault on a administrative post in Mandera county next to Somalia. The border has been closed.

Experts say the insecure border has allowed Kenyan sympathizers of al Shabaab to cross into Somalia for training.

“They are coming back because our armed forces destroyed their training ground there,” said Kitur.

The coastal region also has been the target of attacks by a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, although that group has long denied it has connections with al Shabaab.

Additional reporting by James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Kevin Mwanza and Edmund Blair in Nairobi, Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa and Carolyn Cohn in London and Alexandria Sage in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan

Iran rejects questioning of defense minister under Argentina agreement


Iran denied that its defense minister will be questioned by an Argentinian judge about his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center.

Ahmed Vahidi, who is under an international arrest warrant by Interpol in connection with the deadly bombing of the AMIA center, would be questioned under the framework of the recent truth commission agreement signed by Argentina and Iran, according to Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman.

“The matter of questioning of some of the Iranian officials is a sheer lie,”  Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “It seems that those who are concerned by the actual agreement are spreading such reports.”

Timerman, who is Jewish, had said that seven Iranians with international arrest warrants against them would be interrogated under the agreement.

“I can assure that he will have to be present when the judge questions them, and he will be,” Timerman said on Jan. 29 during his meeting with relatives of the victims of the AMIA bombing when he was asked specifically about Vahidi.

The bombing, for which no one has been prosecuted, killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Argentinian congressman and leaders from political parties are set to meet Thursday outside the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires to protest the agreement with Iran.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a member of the Buenos Aires municipal legislature, recommended the venue for the protest and debate. He noted that Iranian leaders deny the Holocaust.