Story by Robin Yapp for The Telegraph, June 1, 2011:
Ahmad Vahidi was invited to Bolivia by the country’s Defence Ministry and attended a military ceremony in the city of Santa Cruz on Tuesday in the presence of Evo Morales, the Bolivian president.
He is on an Interpol wanted list over the bomb attack in the Argentine capital 17 years ago that killed 85 people and injured up to 300, making it the country’s worst terrorist attack.
Argentina believes he planned the attack on the seven-storey Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AIMA) building and gave the final go ahead for the bombing.
Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor investigating the attack, contacted Interpol’s offices in Bolivia to demand Vahidi’s arrest as soon as Argentina became aware that he was in South America.
But Vahidi was travelling on a diplomatic passport granting him immunity from arrest and Bolivia instead told him that he must leave the country.
Jewish groups in Argentina were outraged by Vahidi’s visit to a neighbouring country with Guillermo Borger, president of the AIMA, describing it as “a provocation” and “a joke”.
“It is a mockery and an affront that a friendly country such as Bolivia receives a minister accused of masterminding an attack that left 85 people dead,” he said.
At the time of the Buenos Aires bomb attack, Vahidi was the commander of a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force.
Iran has denied that any of its nationals were involved in the attack but since 2007 Interpol has had a “red notice” against Vahidi, informing its 187 member countries that Argentina is seeking his arrest.
Héctor Timerman, the Argentine Foreign Minister, used the social networking website Twitter to post a letter he received from David Choquehuanca, his Bolivian counterpart, apologising for the episode.
The letter described the invitation to Vahidi as a “grave incident” and promised that “the government of Bolivia has taken the corresponding provisions to see to it that Ahmad Vahidi immediately leaves Bolivian territory.”
It blamed the blunder on Bolivia’s Defence Ministry, which it said “did not know about the background of the case” and failed to consult with the rest of government.
Vahidi is understood to have left Bolivia on Tuesday night without appearing at a second event he was due to attend but it was unclear whether he had immediately returned to Iran.
The incident is a serious embarrassment for Bolivia and Mr Morales who has close ties with President Cristina Kirchner, of Argentina.
Bolivia and Iran established full diplomatic relations in 2007 and Mr Morales and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, have since made several reciprocal visits.
Bolivia announced last year that it plans to build a nuclear energy plant with Iran’s help and there are suspicions in Israel and elsewhere that Bolivia is supplying uranium for Iran’s nuclear program.