An Argentine federal judge said on Thursday he was seeking the "international capture" of former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and eight others in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center that killed 85 people.
A special prosecutor sought the order, alleging that the worst terrorist attack ever on Argentine soil was orchestrated by leaders of the Iranian government and entrusted to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.
Speaking with journalists at his offices in the Argentine capital, Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral said he had ordered the "international capture" of Rafsanjani and eight others and was seeking the help of Interpol in his effort.
Although he did not specify whether he had already issued arrest warrants, he said he also was issuing an "international exhortation" to Iran to comply with his request, adding he had received "serious" evidence warranting detentions of the nine.
"How Interpol or the Iranian state evaluates this request is beyond my jurisdiction," added Canicoba Corral, cautioning that he expected the "diplomatic process will take a long time."
Separately, Iran's leading diplomatic envoy in Buenos Aires, said that his government would oppose efforts to detain Rafsanjani and other Iranian nationals.
Mohsen Baharvand, charge d'affaires for Iran in Argentina, called the case politically motivated and added Iranian officials would seek a meeting with Interpol officials challenging the order.
"We reject and condemn this accusation," Baharvand said, charging the Argentine case was "fraught with irregularities" and driven by US and Israeli interests.
There appeared to be a complete media blackout in Iran over the arrest warrants yesterday. No radio or TV reported the incident, and officials issued no comments.
The July 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center here killed 85 people and injured more than 200 others. Investigators say an explosives-packed van was driven up to the building and detonated.
Iran's government has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack.
Baharvand called the effort a "huge propaganda" campaign against his country, adding that Iran was "a scapegoat for the shortcomings of the countries that are not able to find the real perpetrators of this act."
Two special prosecutors on Oct. 25 urged Canicoba Corral to seek international and national arrest orders for Rafsanjani, who was Iran's president between 1989 and 1997 and is now the head of the Expediency Council, which mediates between parliament and the clerics in ruling the country.
Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor, said last month that the decision to attack the center "was undertaken in 1993 by the highest authorities" of the Iranian government at the time, and that the actual attack was entrusted to Hezbollah.
Nisman also asked Canicoba Corral to detain several other former Iranian officials, including intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, foreign minister Ali Ar Velayati, two commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, two diplomats and a former Lebanese Hezbollah security chief for external affairs.
The judge confirmed he was seeking those men as well as Iran's former envoy to Argentina.