BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina on Wednesday launched a probe into the alleged kidnapping and torture of an attorney who accused top officials of a coverup in the nation's worst terrorist attack.
The apparent abduction of Claudio Lifschitz on Friday has raised new questions about whether powerful people still have something to hide about the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center that killed 85 people.
Lifschitz said he was driving through Buenos Aires with his secretary on Friday when another car cut him off. Three masked men jumped out, seized him, put a plastic bag over his head and shoved him into a van, he said.
He said the men claimed they were members of the government's SIDE intelligence agency and shouted "don't mess with the SIDE!" They carved the initials of the Jewish center — AMIA — on his back, and used a blowtorch to burn the bombing probe's case number onto his left forearm, he said.
Lifschitz said he was dropped off in the street after a couple of hours, and immediately made a police report. Police had already been alerted by his secretary.
Lifschitz testified in closed court Wednesday about the attack at the request of the judge investigating the bombing. Court secretary Miguel Ambrosio told The Associated Press that his testimony largely matched the account he gave local media.
Lifschitz could be important to Argentina's long-stymied effort to seek justice in the bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association building, which prosecutors believe was orchestrated by Iranian officials.
As a chief aide to Juan Jose Galeano, the investigative judge first named to probe the bombing, Lifschitz had access to inside information. Six years after the attack, it was Lifschitz who blew the whistle, accusing his boss of suppressing evidence under pressure from other top officials.
He alleged, among other things, that SIDE agents had caught Iranians in Argentina on wiretaps before and after the bombing, and that the recordings had disappeared.
Lifschitz said the people who attacked him on Friday grilled him about the whereabouts of the recordings.
SIDE officials told the AP they had no comment about Lifschitz' case.
Investigations into the bombing and the alleged coverup have regained momentum. Interpol now has seven Iranians and a Lebanese terror suspect on its most-wanted list in connection with the bombing.
Prosecutors are now probing allegations that Galeano, former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), Menem's brother Munir and the head of SIDE at the time, Hugo Anzorreguy, cut off investigations days after the bombing into the possibility that a businessman who shares Menem's Syrian ancestry had contact with the bombers and might have been involved in the bombing itself.
Menem has denied the allegations and accused President Cristina Fernandez and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, of persecuting him politically.
Brought into court Monday for the first time, Menem, 78, refused to testify about the bombing, presenting a written statement instead that prosecutors criticized as vague.
Judges have not yet approved charges against either of the Menems, the businessman Kanoore Edul or Anzorreguy.
Alfredo Neuberger, a member of the Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations based in Buenos Aires, called for investigators to get to the bottom of the Lifschitz attack, calling it "grave and strange."