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In Argentinian Murder Mystery, Prosecutor's Death Spawns Many Suspects


Conspiracies theories are flying in Argentina over the death of a prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center. Dozens of people died in that attack. Hundreds were injured. Alberto Nisman was found dead a day before he was to give testimony that he said would've implicated Argentina's president in a cover-up of those responsible for the bombing. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from Buenos Aires. Lourdes, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: I can't think of any better way to begin this than asking, what do you hear?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it's all anyone can talk about here. It's on the radio. It's on the TV. It's in the newspapers. What happened to him has geopolitical ramifications. It has national impact here in Argentina in the highest levels of government. So who was this man? Well, Nisman was a prosecutor who was investigating, as you say, Argentina's worst-ever terror attack. And he alleged that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group at the behest of Iran, was behind that bombing in 1994. Nisman's latest evidence through wiretaps, some of which now have been released, was supposed to show that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was trying to obstruct the investigation into that bombing in order to sort of cozy up to Iran and get Iranian oil for this economically troubled country. So Iran, of course, has always denied any involvement in the bombing, and did so again yesterday when Iran's foreign minister spoke from Davos in Switzerland, saying this has nothing to do with us. But, of course, everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else here.

SIMON: Investigators had initially said that Mr. Nisman was a suicide. What does it look like now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, he was found in his apartment, they say, with a bullet to the head and a gun with a single shell casing next to him. But the timing was so very suspicious that his death caused an immediate uproar. His family and his friends said he was upbeat before the testimony, that the idea that he would kill himself just didn't ring true. And it's just sort of gotten murkier since then. There's been mounting evidence that he could have been killed. There was no gunpowder residue on his hands. A locksmith testified that the back door to his apartment was unlocked. A secret third entrance to his apartment was discovered where a potential killer could've gotten in. It reads like a novel. And the strangest part of all this, of course, was that this man knew he was under threat. Nisman was being protected by 10 security guards, but where were they? And that's where the investigation is at now. Was it murder? In an abrupt about-face, President Cristina Fernandez herself, after first saying that she thought he had committed suicide, now says she also believes he was killed.

SIMON: Who do the major suspects seem to be?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I mean, basically this is Middle East conspiracy theories meets politically polarized Argentina. You name it - Iran, Hezbollah, they've obviously come up. The opposition is casting suspicion on the president and her government thing, saying that they were trying to silence him. Israel even gets an accusation from, of course, the Iranian press. They allege Israel wants to scupper talks on Iran's nuclear program. President Kirchner says she believes that it was a disgruntled spy intent on discrediting her government. So, many possibilities but very little clarity.

SIMON: And we should remind ourselves this bombing, that happened in 1994 at the Jewish center and killed so many people there in Buenos Aires, has not been solved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, it hasn't, and it's been over 20 years. It was a massive human tragedy that still has no resolution, which is why some people say we may also never know what really happened to Alberto Nisman.

SIMON: In addition to all the talk, is there an actual, you know, police investigation going on?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is, of course, a police investigation going on. And it's a very well-scrutinized police investigation. But so far, the lead investigator on this case still hasn't declared that Alberto Nisman's death is a homicide.

SIMON: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Buenos Aires. Thanks so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.