President of Argentina Mauricio Macri told reporters Wednesday that “there is no room for any gray areas” in the fight against terrorism, responding to the deaths of five Argentines in an act of jihad in New York City on Tuesday.
“Lamentably, there was a new terrorist attack in New York, and five rosarinos were victims,” Macri said, referring to the victims’ native city of Rosario. “Five enterprising young men, protagonists in rosarina society, I imagine, with lovely families. It is something that has moved all of us Argentines greatly.”
Macri went on to insist that the terrorist attack “reminds us that there is no room for gray areas in the world today. We all have to be committed, head to toe, in the fight against terrorism.”
On Tuesday, Argentina’s victims were five men who had come to Manhattan to celebrate a 30-year college reunion: Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij y Hernán Ferruchi. A sixth man in their cohort, Martín Ludovico Marro, survived the attack and is currently recovering in the hospital, according to Argentine outlet Infobae. All were between 45 and 50 years old.
The five, and another three individuals, died after being hit at high speed by a Home Depot rental truck in the hands of 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, who left notes in his truck apparently praising the Islamic State. Saipov, an Uzbek national, also left over a dozen others injured. Authorities say he rented the truck in New Jersey, drove into Manhattan, and targeted the area near Stuyvesant High School around 3 PM local time, just as school would have been ending and students pouring into the streets. The attack took place on Halloween, a holiday with its origins in European paganism and thus a prime target for iconoclastic, violent jihadis.
“We are hurt and consternated. There is a strange atmosphere,” Alicia Olivia, the vice-director of the Superior Politechnic Institution of Rosario, where the men had gone to school together, told Argentina’s La Nación on Wednesday. “We got together in the yard and remembered with much affection these five alums to say they will always be with us.”
The families of the victims will soon arrive in New York to repatriate their remains.
As the head of the nation which – prior to September 11, 2001 – had suffered the deadliest jihadist attack in the history of the Western Hemisphere, Macri addressed an Argentina for whom a jihadist attack remains its most painful unresolved crime. In 1994, the nation lost 85 lives in the bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), a crime that investigators repeatedly found evidence to attribute to the government of Iran.
Argentina has a large Jewish population and positive relations with Israel, facts that made it an easy target for violent Muslim actors. A Hezbollah-tied organization had already claimed the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 when the AMIA attack happened.
Yet Argentina had to wait until 2006 for answers when prosecutors charged eight Iranian government officials with organizing and executing the bombing. In particular, prosecutors targeted Iranian diplomat Mohesen Rabbani, who was active in Argentina, with taking the lead in orchestrating the attack.
The prosecutor in charge of the probe, Alberto Nisman – himself a member of the Argentine Jewish community – succeeded in getting Interpol to issue red alerts for six of the individuals his investigation targeted, a sign that the international law enforcement agency had significant evidence tying them to the attack, in 2007. With the rise of leftist president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner that year, however, Nisman found his investigation frustrated, with Fernández de Kirchner reaching out to Tehran for suspect, but lucrative, economic deals.
It took almost a decade, but Nisman compiled a 289-page report accusing Fernández de Kirchner and other high-ranking officials of obstructing the investigation, finding evidence that the president had offered to lobby Interpol to drop the red alerts, and block Nisman’s probe, in exchange for oil and military deals that helped enrich the Buenos Aires leftist elite.
The day before he was to present his report to the Argentine legislator, Nisman was found dead. He was lying in a pool of blood, a bullet in his head, in his apartment when police found him in January 2015.
Macri’s electoral victory in 2015, in which the conservative forced the first run-off presidential vote in the nation’s history, was in part a response to Nisman’s death and the outrageous lengths to which the Fernández de Kirchner government went to fumble the investigation into his death and disparage the prosecutor himself.
Kirchner officials referred to Nisman as a “scoundrel” and accused him of cavorting with prostitutes in the months after his death. The top prosecutor on his murder case, Victoria Fein, rapidly branded the death a “suicide” and attempted to close the case. Kirchner herself wrote a bizarre blog post in which she accused an unspecified right-wing “they” of murdering Nisman.
Hundreds of thousands of Argentines took to the streets demanding justice. Many had already concluded who the killers were, holding signs reading “Islamic Fundamentalism Killed Nisman.”
Macri vowed justice for the prosecutor and invited his ex-wife and daughter to a presidential debate. Daniel Scioli, his left-wing Kirchnerist rival, eked out a victory in the first round of elections too small to prevent a run-off, a historical first.
Macri won in late 2015 and made the Nisman cause, and the fight against radical Islam, a cornerstone of his policy. His first move as president was to get rid of a “memorandum of understanding” that Fernández de Kirchner had signed with the government of Iran that allowed the rogue state to take on a major role in investigating itself.
The Iranian terrorists who have plagued Argentina for years may consider Islamic State Sunnis like Saipov “takfiri” blasphemers worse than kuffar, and vice versa. There is no evidence suggesting that Saipov was intended to kill Argentines, who play no major role in the fights against ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. But the loss of life in the Manhattan attack will likely reopen a still-festering wound in the heart of one of Latin America’s largest nations, and Macri will need to elevate his presidential stature to address it.