Fatal case in Argentina shows need for caution on any deal with Iran

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Spanish "I am Nisman" during a protest sparked by the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, outside the government house in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

It’s either a real-life thriller of terrorism cover-ups, international conspiracy and political corruption or a terrible human tragedy.

Or both.

But whatever the case, the death last Sunday of Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman sent shockwaves through Buenos Aires and could have consequences around the world.

That’s because he alleged in the days before his demise that Iranian leaders sanctioned a terrorist attack on Argentine soil and that Argentina’s president conspired nearly two decades later to cover up their involvement in exchange for a trade deal.

The 1994 bombing at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires left 85 civilians dead and at least 300 injured.

Mr. Nisman contended that Iranian officials — including the then-president, foreign minister, head of the national guard and several high-level diplomats — sanctioned and even helped orchestrate the attack, which was carried out by Hezbollah.

Argentine and international investigations into the bombing — the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation’s history — were initially inconclusive.

In 2007, Mr. Nisman convinced Interpol to issue arrest warrants for several Iranians he claimed were involved.

Starting in 2011, the administration of current Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner reportedly offered to have Interpol drop the arrest warrants in exchange for a trade package with the Iranian government under its then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The deal ultimately fell through, and the negotiations were kept secret.

All of this information — part of Mr. Nisman’s 283-page report released online this week — was set to be presented to a parliamentary commission on Monday.

Then Mr. Nisman was found dead in his apartment clutching a pistol just hours before the meeting. Officials ruled his death a suicide.

Mrs. Kirchner, of course, has categorically denied Mr. Nisman’s version of the events and claims he was used by political opponents to smear her administration.

A former head of Interpol also denied the Argentine government ever asked him to lift any arrest warrants against Iranians suspected of involvement in the bombing.

But the weight of Mr. Nisman’s accusations demand thorough international investigation.

Mrs. Kirchner addressed his death on her official blog on Monday. In the lengthy post she pondered “what led Nisman to make the terrible decision to end his own life,” among other questions.

But the rest of Argentina found Mr. Nisman’s apparent suicide too convenient to be believed.

Protestors filled the streets of Buenos Aires calling for justice in his death and referring to the prosecutor as the 86th victim of the 1994 bombing.

Then on Thursday, Mrs. Kirchner dropped a bombshell of her own. In another blog post, she declared she was now “convinced” that Mr. Nisman’s death had not been a suicide.

If indeed Mr. Nisman did not kill himself, then who murdered him?

It’s a question of terrible importance for Argentina, Iran and anyone who does business with either nation. That includes the United States as it attempts to broker an agreement with Iran to prevent it from reaching its longtime goal of developing a nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Nisman’s alarming allegations — and his extraordinarily suspicious death — should be added incentive for the United States to proceed with caution.

Ed Buckley, a Post and Courier editorial staffer, formerly worked in Argentina and Colombia.