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Argentine prosecutor probing 1994 bombing shot in head, autopsy shows

Argentine special prosecutor investigating 1994 bombing of Jewish cultural center found shot to death

An Argentine special prosecutor who last week accused the nation's president of being involved in a coverup tied to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center died of a gunshot wound to the head, an official said Monday following an autopsy.

Natalio Alberto Nisman, whose body was discovered the day before in his apartment, was shot in the temple and a .22-caliber firearm was found nearby, prosecutor Viviana Fein told reporters.

She otherwise provided few details from the autopsy and did not disclose whether homicide or suicide was suspected, noting that the investigation continued. She did say there was no immediate sign of another person's involvement in the death.

Nisman’s death came days after he accused President Cristina Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other officials of making a deal to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranians in the Buenos Aires bombing, which left 85 people dead.

Nisman, 51, was to have presented evidence Monday to the nation’s Congress backing up his allegation.

The special prosecutor had led the investigation of the bombing since 2004. No one has ever been convicted in connection with the attack. Warrants for the arrests of nine Iranians, including Mohsen Rabbani, the former cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, were issued in 2006, but none was ever detained for trial.

Last Wednesday, Nisman said Fernandez, Timerman and other government officials “formed a criminal conspiracy” in 2013 to negotiate and organize a “bilateral agreement with Iran to guarantee impunity of Iranian fugitives” in connection with the bombing. He said both countries had agreed on a “memorandum of understanding” covering the deal.

Timerman's office rejected the claims, saying they indicated the state of "confusion" of the investigation.

Nisman had claimed publicly that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah carried out the bombing of the Jewish center with financing and logistical help from Iranian officials.

He called for a full-blown investigation of the alleged deal and said the Fernandez government had made “an alliance with terrorism” to absolve Iran of culpability for the bombing and to “look for false suspects.”   

In a television interview last week, Nisman said Fernandez’s apparent motive in making the deal was to reach commercial accords involving among other things the exchange of Argentine grain for Iranian oil. 

Proof of a deal was alleged to have come from wiretaps on telephone calls between a suspected Iranian agent and Rabbani, the former Iranian cultural attaché.

Special correspondents D'Alessandro reported from Buenos Aires and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:05 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify that none of the Iranians for whom arrest warrants were issue was ever detained for trial.

1:15 p.m.: This article has been updated with a prosecutor's statement about the contents of an autopsy.

The story was originally published at 10:08 a.m.

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