LIMA, Peru — It’s widely regarded as Latin America’s deadliest terror attack. In 1994, a van loaded with fertilizer blew up in front of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds.
After 20 years of dead ends in the investigation, prosecutor Alberto Nisman finally seemed to be making headway. But he also became increasingly frustrated at what he saw as government roadblocks to his quest for the truth.
Last week, he publicly accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of conspiring with Iran to shield Iranian suspects in the AMIA case as part of a trade deal with the oil-rich Middle Eastern country.
But in a sensational twist, Nisman’s body was found in his apartment on Sunday evening in what initially appeared to be a suicide. He had a single bullet wound to the head and a .22 caliber handgun and bullet casing were found beside his body. The apartment was locked from the inside, according to early reports.
Yet many in Argentina are not buying that. Even the Argentine president publicly suggested Nisman may have been forced to take his own life.
The shock death of the 51-year-old prosecutor came just a day before he was due to testify before Argentine lawmakers.
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Nisman also faced heavy criticism.
He claimed to have audiotapes of government officials’ conversations to back up his accusations of an Argentine-Iranian cover-up. But the judge handling the AMIA case accused him of making the recordings without judicial oversight and said they proved nothing.
Here are reactions to Nisman’s death, which include the widespread suspicion in Argentina that it involved foul play.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
President Fernandez de Kirchner was quick to emphasize that it was an apparent suicide. On her official Facebook page, she asked: “What was it that led a person to make the terrible decision to take his life?”
In a long statement, she then went on to trash the cover-up accusations against her and warn darkly that Nisman was being manipulated — presumably by the people she thinks may have obliged him to kill himself — while recalling her personal memories of the day of the bombing:
“The most important thing is to warn that there is an attempt to do the same thing with the cover-up case as with the principal [AMIA atrocity] case 21 years ago: distract, lie, hide and confuse.”
Prosecutor investigating death of prosecutor
Meanwhile, to add to the conspiracy theories, the prosecutor investigating Nisman’s death, Viviana Fein, refused to rule out that he had been forced to take his own life, while also stating there was no evidence of anyone else being present in his apartment.
A newspaper editor
Many Argentines are now pointing the finger at their own government.
Clarin, the country’s best-known newspaper, which has long been at odds with Fernandez de Kirchner, led the charge. Editor Leonardo Mindez penned an op-ed titled “Political commotion over the death of Nisman, and an official rush to confirm suicide.”
Throwing gasoline onto the conspiracy bonfire, La Nacion, another of Argentina’s leading papers, reported that no gunpowder residue had been found on Nisman’s hands, evidence that would appear to rule out his pulling the trigger.
And Twitter, of course, went into overdrive. #CFKasesina — combining the Argentine president’s initials and the Spanish word for “murderer” — became one of the country’s most popular hashtags.
@ShoRosaGuadalup tweeted a picture of Nisman overlaid with some of his famous quotes, including his repeated warnings that he could pay with his life for his investigations into Iran’s involvement in the AMIA atrocity — and the Argentine government’s purported attempts to hush that up.
Another Twitter user, @EnriqueValenti, posted this picture of the president and Nisman, photoshopped to make the president appear like a knife-wielding Islamic State executioner and Nisman his prisoner.
Meanwhile, Argentine rabbi Sergio Bergman tweeted that Nisman had become the 86th victim of the AMIA bombing:
All eyes are now on Fernandez de Kirchner’s scandal-wracked administration to see how it responds to an untimely death that, whatever its causes, could not be a more potent political bombshell.