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The Civic Scene: Anti-terror lessons found in Argentines’ experiences

During the recent United Nations meeting, my family hosted several Argentinians who had come here to bear witness to the support Iran had given to the bombing of the AMIA in Buenos Aires in 1994.

The AMIA is the Argentine-Israeli cultural center for the Jewish population in Buenos Aires. A truck bomb destroyed the building, killing 85 people and injuring 300.

The visitors here were family members of two who died in the bombing and some supporters. The Argentinian government had given them diplomatic passes so they could attend the UN session as witnesses to terrorism. One visitor was Olga Degtiar, whose 21-year-old son had died in the AMIA, and another was Sergio Burstein, whose wife was killed.

They are unhappy the murderers have not been brought to justice yet. There had been a trial of the criminal whose truck had held the explosives, but there had been some kind of collusion with the police. Several of them had been put on trial and were sent to jail. Due to annual ceremonies at the bombing site, pressure was kept on officials to find the true terrorists and bring them to justice.

A new Argentinian prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, pushed ahead and discovered that an Iranian Revolutionary Guard official, Ahmed Vahidi, had worked with the terrorist group Hezbollah to do the bombing.

The Argentinian visitors were incensed the Iranian government had appointed the accused mastermind of the AMIA bombing as minister of defense for Iran. They left a letter with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking the Iranian president not be allowed into the General Assembly. They also attended the anti-Iranian rally held outside the UN.

As one learns about the AMIA bombing, terrorism will continue unless all countries take a firm stand against it. In Argentina in March 1992, terrorists had bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and 29 people were killed, but there was no real investigation. Then in 1994 the AMIA was bombed.

In New York City in 1993 a truck bomb was driven into one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. We saw and were concerned, but did not do enough to prevent terrorism at that time. Then came Sept. 11 and it was so horrible that now we are fully engaged against terrorism.

One of the reasons 9/11 happened was because our intelligence agencies were not fully cooperating with each other. There is now a czar who is supposed to coordinate cooperation between American intelligence agencies, but we have just noticed something may have gone wrong in the current terrorist bombing attempt case in New York City, where a lack of coordination between the NYPD anti-terrorism group and the FBI may have led to the premature arrest of the conspirator.

Is there still too much rivalry still between our intelligence groups? The NYPD does have officers stationed all over the world so they can prevent more terrorism attacks in the city. If Argentinian authorities had been more aggressive after the 1992 bombing, the AMIA might not have happened; if our authorities had been more aggressive after the 1993 bombing, then 9/11 might have been prevented.

Degtiar is vehement about obtaining justice for the AMIA victims. She believes Iran instigates bombings when a country stops cooperating or trading with it. She said that in 1991 Argentina stopped working with Iran and in 1992 the bombing took place. She said this type of terrorism by Iran is going on all over the world. Argentina is acting against terrorism now because the new president, Christina Kirchner, who as a senator spoke out for civil rights, is actively speaking out for justice in the AMIA case.

Terrorism is designed to instill fear so terrorists can achieve whatever their goal is. One of the people I met was influenced by the fear of what the terrorists might do. This person, who wants justice in the AMIA case, did not want their name used or photo taken because there were relatives living in Argentina today and there was fear something might happen to them. The person was here to testify against terrorism, but the fear of terrorist acts was evident.

The AMIA families and supporters are speaking out against terrorism. On the 18th of every month they gather to say a prayer or speak a little and bring a flower and on July 18 of every year they hold a bigger ceremony, just the way we do at Ground Zero every Sept. 11. The victims of terrorism are everywhere but terrorism can be stopped or reduced if we stand up to it and cooperate.

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