Latin America & Caribbean

Pope Francis demands justice for Jewish centre attack victims

Pope Francis delivers recorded message to the Jewish Community
The message for the Jewish community was recorded last month at the Vatican by a friend of the Pope

Pope Francis has demanded justice for the victims of a bomb attack against a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires exactly 20 years ago.

In a recorded video to mark the anniversary, the Pope described the attack as an "act of madness".

Eighty-five people were killed in the attack, which was masterminded by Iran, according to Argentine courts. Iran denies any involvement.

Last year, Iran and Argentina agreed to set up a truth commission.

Pope Francis said the suffering of the families cannot be forgotten. He was the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires at the time.

"My prayers for all the victims are accompanied today by my call for justice. Justice must be done," he said.

"And may God give peace to all of those who died in this act of madness."

The video was recorded on the mobile phone of a friend of the Pope and Jewish community leader who went to visit him at the Vatican last month.

'Justice, not agreements'

Hundreds of people gathered outside the reconstructed Jewish cultural centre and the Justice Palace building to pray for the victims and demand justice.

The old seven storey-building of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (Amia) in the centre of Buenos Aires was completely destroyed by a car bomb on 18 July 1994.

Two years earlier, a bomb attack against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires had killed 29 people.

The biggest bomb attack on Argentine soil killed 85 people and injured another 300
Hundreds of people hold pictures of the victims and signs calling for justice
The Argentine Jewish community was targeted by two attacks in the 1990s

The Jewish community in Argentina - the most numerous in Latin America - said there was enough evidence to show that Iran planned and financed the attack against Amia and that the militant group, Hezbollah, carried it out.

Argentine prosecutors accused Iran and Hezbollah in 2006.

Eight suspects were named, including former Iranian Defence Minister, Gen Ahmed Vahidi. But no arrests have been made.

At the time of the attack, Gen Vahidi was the commander of a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Amia's vice-president Thomas Saiegh spoke to the Jewish community during the vigil to mark the anniversary.

He called for "concrete measures" by the Argentine government to arrest the Iranian citizens allegedly involved.

"We all have an empty chair at home," said Luis Czyzewski, who lost a daughter in the attack.

Relatives and Jewish leaders also criticised last year's joint decision by Argentina and Iran to set up a commission to investigate the bombing.

"Our victims demand justice, not agreements," Mr Czyzewski added.

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