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US offers $7 mn to find Hezbollah agent wanted for Argentina attack

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the bombing at the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the bombing at the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AFP Photo/NATACHA PISARENKO)

Buenos Aires (AFP) - The United States on Friday offered a $7 million reward to find a Hezbollah operative accused of masterminding a deadly 1994 attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, as it vowed to bring together Latin American nations to fight the militant group.

The United States also imposed sanctions on the Hezbollah figure, Salman Raouf Salman, in tandem with Argentina's announcement on the 25th anniversary of the attack that it is designating the Lebanese Shiite movement as a terrorist group.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was visiting Argentina to commemorate the attack and lit a candle at the site of the devastated Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, known by its Spanish acronym AMIA.

He was joined by several ministers from Latin American nations who also came to Buenos Aires for talks on counter-terrorism.

"They were killed by members of a terrorist group, Hezbollah, and had help that day from Iran," Pompeo told a remembrance ceremony, saying that Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards provided "logistical support and funding."

"We have not forgotten, and we never will," Pompeo said at the AMIA, where a plaque listed the names of the 85 victims.

AMIA president Ariel Eichbaum said that responsibility for the attack lay with Hezbollah and Iran, the primary sponsor of the Shiite Muslim militant movement.

Eichbaum asked all countries to "help us find those responsible and bring them to justice."

After 25 years, no one has been brought to trial and the case has been bogged down in Argentina amid allegations of political interference and high-level corruption.

Iran and Hezbollah both deny responsibility for the attack, and persistent skeptics have questioned the motivation. Hezbollah was also accused of carrying out a deadly attack two years earlier against the Israeli embassy.

- Show of 'solidarity' -

The United States has encouraged Latin American countries to follow its lead in aggressively designating groups or individuals as terrorists, as witnessed through Argentina's action.

"In the face of a global threat like Hezbollah, it is every sovereign nation's obligation and responsibility to comply with sanctions designed to keep all of us safe," Pompeo said as he opened the talks with fellow ministers.

"Solidarity is the antidote to the terror threat," he said.

The State Department said the $7 million reward would go to anyone who provides information that leads to the location of Salman, also known as Salman al-Reda.

The Treasury Department said Salman masterminded the 1994 attack and "has directed terrorist operations in the Western Hemisphere for Hezbollah ever since."

Salman has been reported to have joint Lebanese and Colombian citizenship, allowing him to move more easily across Latin America.

The Treasury Department said that Salman also served as a handler for a man arrested by Peru in 2014 for allegedly planning to attack Israelis and Jews.

Asked where Salman is believed to be now, a senior US official said: "We think he is probably somewhere in the Middle East."

The Treasury designation will freeze any assets Salman may have in the United States and criminalize any assistance to him, although Hezbollah as a whole is already under heavy US sanctions.

The actions come amid high tensions between the United States and Iran after President Donald Trump left a denuclearization accord and slapped sweeping sanctions on Tehran.

Pompeo on a visit in March to Beirut vowed to stop "all malign behavior" by Iran including activities by Hezbollah.

But Lebanese officials defended the group, which has emerged into a major political party with cabinet ministers and which won popular support through its guerrilla campaign against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

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