Civil status Single
Date of execution July 18, 1994
Location Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mode of execution bombing
About This Case
Sebastian Barreiro was one of 85 victims of the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) bombing that took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina on July 18, 1994. At approximately 9:05 in the morning, a van containing 275 kilograms of explosives detonated on Noreguy Street, destroying the headquarters of AMIA and damaging surrounding buildings, while also injuring 151 people. The victims included passersby and occupants of the surrounding buildings. AMIA, a mutual aid society, was one of the most visible Jewish organizations in Argentina. It was the largest bombing in the history of Argentina and the deadliest attack on Jews since the end of World War II. The bombing came on the heels of a similar attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in March of 1992, which killed 29 people.
Sebastian, five years old, was walking with his mother past the door of the AMIA building at the time of the explosion. He had a ten-month-old sister, Lara, whom he loved, and liked to show off to the neighbors. His most prized possessions were his dog, Pamela, his bicycle, and his ninja turtle. Sebastian was about to finish kindergarten. “That is why, even when he was not there, at the end-of-the-school year party, the school prepared a diploma and released a balloon with his name, along with all his classmates’ balloons, so that he wouldn’t be missing.”
Sebastian is in Omid because of the overwhelming evidence linking Iran to the bombing. The facts surrounding the bombing are contained in the report of the official investigation, “Unidad Fiscal de Investigación: Causa Amia”, October 25, 2006, Ministerio Público de la Nación (Fiscal Investigation Unit: AMIA). The Argentine government’s finding were confirmed when INTERPOL authorized the issuance of arrest warrants for six of the suspects involved, including a number of high-ranking Iranian officials. The six individuals were Imad Fayez Mughniyah, Ali Fallahian, Mohsen Rabbani, Ahmad Reza Asghari, Ahmad Vahidi and Mohsen Rezai. Fallahian was Iran’s Minister of Intelligence during this time period, while Rezai was head of the Revolutionary Guards.*
After the bombing, the Argentine government launched an investigation led by Judge Jose Galleano. From the outset, the investigation was woefully short of resources and governmental support. Though Galleano eventually charged several people with the bombing, his investigation was ineffective and marred by so many irregularities that the most prominent victims’ group, Memoria Activa, filed suit with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of American States on July 16, 1999, accusing the Argentine government of failure to prevent the bombing and abdicating its responsibilities to the victims to pursue justice in the case. This was followed with Galleano’s removal from the case in 2004. Though Iran has used Galleano’s dismissal as confirmation that its role in the bombing was fabricated as part of a cover-up, the evidence clearly illustrates that Galleano’s motive was not to frame Iran, but to prevent a thorough investigation that would bring to light unflattering facts concerning corruption within the highest reaches of Argentina’s government. After Galleano’s removal, Alberto Nisman was brought in as the chief investigator. Starting anew with greater resources and increased support from President Néstor Kirchner, Nisman was able to conduct an investigation thorough and credible enough to obtain INTERPOL approval for international arrest warrants.
Iran’s primary motivation was Argentina’s decision to stop nuclear aid to Iran and reorient its foreign policy towards the United States (which included sending warships in support of the United States-led coalition in the first Gulf War). Other contributing factors were Argentina’s ineffectual response to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and Syrian anger over Argentina’s decision to end cooperation on a joint missile program (which helps explain Hezbollah’s role in the bombing, since Lebanon’s Hezbollah operates under Iran and Syria’s control). According to the investigations, the decision to carry out the bombing was taken at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic. A special committee consisting of Supreme Leader Ali Kamenei, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, and other high-ranking officials, met in Mahshad, Iran on August 14, 1993 to authorize and plan the bombing. Overall responsibility for the operation was conferred upon Fallahian and Ahamad Vahidi, commander of a special branch of the Islamic Republican Guards.
The bombing was carried out in Argentina by a group of Hezbollah agents with the help of Iranian diplomats stationed at the embassy in Buenos Aires. The Hezbollah operatives, led by Imad Mughnieh, arrived in Buenos Aires with fake European passports on July 1, 1994. A flurry of phone calls from the airport traced them to Foz de Iguazu in the Tri-Border Area, a loosely governed region bordering Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, that has become a danger point for terrorism. From the evidence gathered, two Iranian diplomats in Buenos Aires actively assisted Hezbollah. Mohsen Rabbani, who was in charge of the operation, was Iran’s newly appointed cultural attaché at the embassy (though he had been in Argentina for eleven years, he was bestowed diplomatic immunity only in March) and was in charge of logistics for the operation. Aiding him was Ahmad Asghari, the 3rd Secretary at the embassy and a member of the Revolutionary Guard.
In procuring a vehicle for the bombing, Rabbani turned to José Ribelli, a member of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police. Aside from his law enforcement position, Ribelli operated a lucrative car theft ring. He, in turn, used the services of Carlos Telledin to find a suitable vehicle, which turned out to be a white Nissan Trafic. The suicide driver was Ibrahin Hussein Berro, a member of Hezbollah from Lebanon who had arrived in Argentina with Mugniyeh.
Iran’s involvement in the bombing follows a pattern of past behavior. Iran was the catalyst behind the bombings of the Marine and French barracks in Beirut in 1983, and the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Iran also had a hand in a string of bombings that rocked Paris in 1986. One of the main stated aims of the bombers was to pressure the French government into releasing Anis Naccache, a Lebanese national imprisoned for the 1980 botched assassination attempt of former Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar, which resulted in the murder of two French citizens. Naccache was unexpectedly released from prison in 1990 for “reasons of state” and returned to Iran. Additionally, Iran is believed to have played a role in the assassination of at least 162 dissidents around the world.
The AMIA bombing was more than just a heinous act of terrorism; it was also a crime against humanity. Though often viewed in connection with armed conflicts, the concept of crimes against humanity has progressed in recent years to include incidents like the AMIA bombing. This evolution has been led by recent war crimes tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the development of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Under the ICC’s Rome Statute, to qualify as a crime against humanity an act must:
(1) involve the commission of a specified act (e.g., murder, rape, enslavement);
(2) be committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack;
(3) be directed against a civilian population; and
(4) be committed with knowledge of the attack (Rome Statute Art. 7).
The AMIA bombing satisfies all four requirements. It was the continuation of a decades-long policy of the Islamic Republic to use terror as a tool to silence critics and coerce foreign governments into altering their behavior towards Iran. The Islamic Republic’s record of extra-judicial violence, including assassinations and bombings, has also been well-documented in newspaper articles, books, and court cases spanning many years and several continents. The AMIA operation was not the work of an individual or rogue group of officials acting alone. It was the product of meticulous planning and logistics, approved at the highest reaches of the Iranian government.
In viewing the AMIA bombing through this broader prism, one recognizes that Sebastian was not the victim of a violent, yet random act of violence. He was another casualty of an unending and bloody campaign by the Islamic Republic of Iran to silence its critics and further its foreign policy goals.
*Aside from Argentine prosecutor Nisman’s official investigation and findings, numerous newspaper and magazine articles, court cases, scholarly articles, and books have brought to light different aspects of this case. A partial list of the sources includes: “US Expanding Efforts to Block Terrorist Funds in Latin Region,” New York Times, December 21, 2002; “The Tehran Connection,” Time Magazine, March 21, 1994; Ram, “Crushing the Opposition: Adversaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Summer 1992); Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb’allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis; and Peterson v. Iran, 264 F. Supp. 2d 46, 33 (2003 U.S. District Court).(Lawsuit in federal court filed by survivors of 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. In 2007, the government of Iran was found responsible for the attack and liable for money damages.)
Human rights violations in this case
The legal context
Read about the courts, the judges, and the procedure.
Special courts, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals, were set up after the February 1979 revolution. Their jurisdiction encompasses a wide array of offences ranging from association with or support of the former regime, promotion of foreign influence, and enmity with the revolution to possession, use or sales of narcotic drugs, murder, and profiteering. In the 1980s, a penal court, presided over by one judge, was created to handle some of the offenses punishable by death, such as theft or adultery. These tribunals’ decisions must be confirmed by a chamber of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily jurists. By 1981, the judiciary was purged of judges trained in law schools. They were replaced by seminary graduates and students, as well as by political appointees (an estimated 2000 by 1989). Since by law judges are only required to have a high school diploma and must be faithful to the Islamic Republic’s tenets, new recruits often have little formal training in the law and are chosen because of their political affiliation.
The procedures of these ecclesiastical tribunals fail to meet the minimum guarantees for fair trial as established by international human rights instruments and by sha’ria (the Islamic system of law). In addition to executions ordered by revolutionary tribunals, extra-judicial executions are carried out, targeting dissidents and opposition leaders. In some cases, both inside and outside of Iran, these executions have been traced back to Iranian officials. It is, however, not known if in these particular cases trials are held in absentia.
Sources (Among others): Amnesty International, Law and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, February 1980; Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, The Justice System of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1992; E/CN.4/1989/26 p.14; UNCHR, Resolution 1984/54 , Abolition of Torture - Iran - 1; 28 November 1984; Report on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, 28 January 1987. Amnesty International, A SHOCKED WORLD WATCHES IN DISBELIEF, VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, 1987-1990. Memoirs of Ayatollah Khalkhali, religious judge and former head of revolutionary tribunals (2001), and Ayatollah Montazeri, dismissed successor to Ayatollah Khomeini (2001). UNCH, E/CN.4/1994/50, Final report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/62 of 10 March 1993 and Economic and Social Council decision 1993/273. E/CN.4/1994/50, 2 February 1994.
Extrajudicial killings and the Islamic Republic: A decades-long pattern
Read more about the pattern of extrajudicial killings ordered by the Islamic Republic authorities.
Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, have blamed the Islamic regime for the extrajudicial killing of its opponents, both within and outside of its borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.
Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, and Pakistan in Asia; Dubai, Iraq, and Turkey in the Middle East; Cyprus, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Great Britain in Western Europe; and across the Atlantic in the United States,.
In many of these cases local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations. In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question. In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement. Furthermore, the German court found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.
The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition. Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said: “no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.” More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents: "We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."
Based on the available information, the following human rights have been violated in this case:
The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.
The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.