US charges alleged Hezbollah operative in 1994 Argentina AMIA Jewish center bombing
Firefighters and police officers search for victims of the AMIA center bombing in Buenos Aires, July 18, 1994. Photo: (Ali Bufari/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ron Kampeas
December 21, 2023

WASHINGTON (JTA) —  The U.S. Department of Justice has charged a dual Lebanese-Colombian citizen with playing a key role in the massive 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, among other acts of terrorism.

Samuel Salman El Reda, 58, has been an operative of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization since 1993 and was allegedly instrumental in the 1994 bombing, relaying information to the operatives who carried it out, according to the statement released Wednesday by the justice department.

“El Reda was responsible for, among other things, helping to plan and execute the July 18, 1994, bombing of the Asociaión Mutual Israelita Argentina (“AMIA”) building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 85 people and injured hundreds more,” said the release. It said he is based in Lebanon and remains at large. He is charged with providing material support to a designated terrorist organization.

The bombing was both the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history and, until this year, the biggest single massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Two people have been convicted of charges related to the attack in Argentina, though its masterminds have not been brought to justice; El Reda is the first charged with a crime related to the attack by the United States.

“This indictment serves as a message to those who engage in acts of terror: that the Justice Department’s memory is long, and we will not relent in our efforts to bring them to justice,” said Matthew Olsen, the assistant U.S. attorney general, in the statement.

The charges list an array of subsequent attempted terrorist attacks in Peru, Thailand and Panama that allegedly involved El Reda as a planner and deployer of personnel.

Matthew Levitt, the director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the charges against El Reda served two purposes: to restrict his travel and to serve notice that U.S. authorities are expanding their investigations into Hezbollah and affiliated terrorist groups.

“I see the indictment not just as an act of kind of public diplomacy, ‘we know what we’re doing,’ but actually trying to affect his ability to travel, to perform as effectively as a handler of foreign operatives, by constricting his ability to move freely to Europe, to Turkey to South America, and oversee operations and handle operatives,” said Levitt, whose expertise is on Hezbollah.

The Jewish community in Argentina, Jewish communities worldwide and Israel and the U.S. government have for decades been frustrated by Argentina’s failure to bring to justice those responsible for the bombing. Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, have denied responsibility.

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