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Questions Over Prosecutor's Death Envelop Argentina

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

He is being called victim number 86. Alberto Nisman was the Argentine prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people . Earlier this week, Nisman was found dead in his apartment - an apparent suicide. Nisman's death came the day before he was scheduled to testify that the country's most senior officials had worked to cover up who was behind that '94 bombing. Argentina's president was a subject in that investigation. And she says Nisman's death was no suicide. This story has become a sensation in Argentina. And for the latest, let's talk to journalist Jonathan Gilbert, who's in Buenos Aires. Jonathan, good morning.

JONATHAN GILBERT: Good morning.

GREENE: Remind us what happened in 1994 - this bombing of the Jewish community center.

GILBERT: It was the worst terrorist attack in Argentina. There was a Renault van loaded with explosives driven into the front of this community center in downtown Buenos Aires. And then ever since 1994, the investigation into the bombing has been foiled. And then in 2005, the former president appointed Nisman as prosecutor -sort of breathe life into the case. But his accusation's that eight Iranians masterminded the plot and that Hezbollah in Lebanon had carried out the plot. So it came to nowhere. The Iranians's refused to extradite their former officials. And they were never questioned.

GREENE: When Nisman started bringing up the suggestion of Iranian involvement, is that when government officials began to get more uncomfortable?

GILBERT: The big development here is not in 2005 when Nisman was appointed, but rather far more recently, just before he died when he filed a criminal complaint which pointed to a cover-up by government officials here - that the memorandum that they signed with Iran to get to the bottom of the attack was, in fact, just a veneer for a secret pact that was we'll exchange the immunity of those Iranian officials for oil imports.

GREENE: So the government is accused by Nisman of making some sort of deal with Iran to not charge these Iranian agents in return for oil exports. That's what you're saying here.

GILBERT: That's exactly right. Nisman filed this explosive report - 289 pages - last week.

GREENE: I mean, what do we know about how he died?

GILBERT: What we do know is that Mr. Nisman was lent a gun by an assistant at his office on the Saturday. And on the Sunday, he was found dead with this gun lying next to his body in the bathroom of his luxury apartment close to downtown Buenos Aires.

GREENE: Tell us a little bit about him - about Alberto Nisman - and how he came to investigate this bombing.

GILBERT: A longtime lawyer - essentially what you would call in the States a district attorney. And he was always an even-keeled guy. He was 51. He really took the investigation on. He'd been working on the case for 10 years. He sent messages to friends just before. He was about to talk to politicians in Congress on Monday, saying that this was essentially the defining moment of his career. That was on the Saturday, and then on the Sunday, he was found dead.

GREENE: Jonathan Gilbert, this is such a story of intrigue. I mean, how much are people in the country paying attention to this story as it unfolds?

GILBERT: The news has completely enveloped the country. Argentina's highly polarized. President Cristina Kirchner's supporters - some have stuck by her, some have not. And her opponents have really spoken out. There were thousands of people in the streets here and in other cities in Argentina, too, demanding a full investigation into his death. I've never seen a case that has more enveloped the country.

GREENE: We've been speaking to journalist Jonathan Gilbert in Buenos Aires. Jonathan, thanks very much

GILBERT: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.