A special prosecutor who had accused Argentine president Cristina Fernandez of shielding Iranian suspects in the South American country’s worst terrorist attack, has been found shot dead, which authorities say drew outrage from Jewish leaders.
Alberto Nisman, who was set to testify today in a congressional hearing about the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre, was found in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment late yesterday, federal prosecutor Viviana Fein told Telam, Argentina’s official news agency.
“We can confirm that it was a gunshot wound, .22 calibre,” she said, adding that it was too early in the investigation to know what had happened.
Mr Nisman was appointed 10 years ago by Ms Fernandez’s late husband, then-president Nestor Kirchner, to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and injured more than 200.
Argentina has one of the largest concentrations of Jews outside of Israel, with estimates ranging about 200,000, mostly in Buenos Aires.
In 2013, Argentina and Iran reached an agreement to investigate the attack, which remains unsolved. That year, Mr Nisman released an indictment accusing Iran and Hezbollah of organising the blast. Iran denies any involvement.
Last week, Mr Nisman accused Ms Fernandez and other senior Argentine officials of agreeing not to punish at least two former Iranian officials in the case. He asked a judge to call Ms Fernandez and others, including foreign minister Hector Timerman, for questioning.
“The president and her foreign minister took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran’s innocence to sate Argentina’s commercial, political and geopolitical interests,” Mr Nisman said last week.
Ms Fernandez has yet to comment on the allegations, but administration officials have called the prosecutor’s allegations ludicrous.
A federal judge had begun the process of deciding whether to hear the complaint and whether anyone should be summoned for questioning.
Opposition congresswoman Patricia Bullrich told local news media that Mr Nisman told her he had received threats after denouncing the president.
Late yesterday, federal police agents in charge of Mr Nisman’s protection alerted their superiors that he was not answering phone calls, according to a statement from the Health Ministry. When he also did not answer the door, they decided to alert family members, according to the statement.
When Mr Nisman’s mother was not able to open the door because a key was in the lock on the other side, a locksmith was called to open it, the ministry said. A .22 calibre handgun and a shell casing were found next to Mr Nisman’s body.
Israel’s foreign ministry expressed “deep sorrow” over Mr Nisman’s death.
“Nisman, a courageous, venerable jurist who fought intrepidly for justice, acted with determination to expose the identities of the terrorists and their dispatchers,” a ministry statement said.
Within hours, a well-known group called Indignant Argentines called for demonstrations in several areas of Buenos Aires.
“Nisman died but his denouncement does not,” Sergio Bergman, a prominent rabbi in Buenos Aires, posted on Twitter. “Our sorrow and condemnation will result in more memory, truth and justice!”