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On Eve Of Bombshell Testimony, Argentinian Prosecutor Found Dead

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On Eve Of Bombshell Testimony, Argentinian Prosecutor Found Dead

Latin America

On Eve Of Bombshell Testimony, Argentinian Prosecutor Found Dead

On Eve Of Bombshell Testimony, Argentinian Prosecutor Found Dead

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/378409639/378409640" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor investigating Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has been found dead. He'd accused Kirchner and others of covering up Iran's involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center. Haley Cohen of The Economist speaks with Robert Siegel about the story.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Argentina, a man who accused that country's president of a cover-up has been found dead. Special prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of protecting Iranian suspects in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. It was the worst terror attack in Argentine history. Nisman was supposed to testify in a congressional hearing there today.

Haley Cohen joins us now from Buenos Aires where she's a correspondent for The Economist. Welcome to the program. And Mr. Nisman's death appeared to be a suicide but the timing raised a lot of suspicion of homicide. And now an autopsy shows that there's no evidence anyone else was involved. What else is known about his death at this point?

HALEY COHEN: So far, all that we know is that Mr. Nisman died because of a gunshot wound to his right temple. The bullet casing of which was found next to his body - it appears to have come from a 20 - a .22 caliber pistol. The investigator has revealed that Nisman had two guns registered to his name but would not say that the gun found next to him was one of them. We also know that when his mother attempted to gain entry to his apartment upon becoming suspicious after he didn't answer texts or her phone calls which was uncharacteristic, she found that the door was locked from the inside. Now, we know also that there's a second entrance through which any third person or intruder could have gained entrance to Nisman's apartment. But that person or intruder would have needed a code to get up in the elevator, and the door did not appear to be forced.

SIEGEL: Haley, take us back to 1994. Help us understand what happened at the Jewish center back then.

COHEN: In 1994, a car laden with explosives was driven into a Jewish center in the center of Buenos Aires killing 85 people - 86 if you count the terrorist - and injuring hundreds more. No one has ever been charged for this crime, and last week, Mr. Nisman had presented a 300-page report in court in which he accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and some of her other allies of covering up Iranian involvement in the bombing.

SIEGEL: Now, we should say it was the allegation of a cover-up that was new here. For many years Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah have been accused by many of having been responsible for this bombing, but no one has ever been tried for the case. Is that right?

COHEN: That's correct.

SIEGEL: How did Mr. Nisman become involved in all this?

COHEN: Mr. Nisman became involved in this case about a decade ago. He was put in charge of heading the investigation. And this is actually not the first time that he's accused a head of state of obstructing justice in some way. In 2009, it was his investigation that led to the indictment of President Carlos Menem who was president at the time of the bombings on charges of obstructing justice and trying to protect one of his contacts, essentially, from further investigation.

SIEGEL: So this was not the first time that he had publicly tangled with a sitting president of Argentina.

COHEN: Exactly. And his death came just hours before he was supposed to present the findings of an investigation that he had undertaken for many years. So for many people, the timing raises questions even if the evidence that investigators have found point to a suicide.

SIEGEL: Haley Cohen of The Economist in Buenos Aires. Thanks.

COHEN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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