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World

Argentinians Doubt Prosecutor's Death Was Suicide

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The death of a prosecutor has focused international attention on Argentina. Alberto Nisman was investigating Argentina's worst ever terrorist attack. He was also about to present evidence that he said would show Argentina's president was obstructing the investigation. Then just before he could do that, Nisman was found dead with a bullet to the head. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro begins her report today from the streets of Buenos Aires.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, tango music echoes down the narrow alleyways during the Sunday market. There is a famous saying about tango, that it is a sad thought to be danced. Alberto Nisman's death is the latest sad chapter in a troubled national history. The investigation is still ongoing, and the details are murky. But while authorities here say he may have committed suicide, pretty much no one on the streets here buys that.

MONICA BEATRIZ: I think he was killed. Many people, I think, want to kill him, to shoot him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Monica Beatriz. Alfredo Lauret blames the government.

ALFREDO LAURET: He was murdered by the government because he knew too much. It's very simple. Everybody knows the truth here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Actually, truth in Argentina is hard to come by. This all started with the AMIA bombing, as it's known here. On July 18, 1994, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association was blown up. Eighty-five people were killed. Hundreds were injured. No one who supposedly perpetrated the bombing has been punished. The only people to have gone to trial were the people supposed to be investigating the case. Think about that. It's almost like no one knowing who was behind 9/11. Romina Manguel is an investigative journalist who's been covering the AMIA case since it happened.

ROMINA MANGUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "When you tell people from the outside about it," she says, "it seems to them almost like a horror movie. There's even an ex-president of Argentina, Carlos Menem, who's been charged with also taking part in the cover-up. That's how absurd, dirty and ridiculous the AMIA case is."

Alberto Nisman was appointed to take over that stalled investigation 10 years ago, under then sitting president Cristina Fernandez's husband, Nestor Kirchner. Nisman quickly accused the Shiite militant group Hezbollah of being behind the attack under the direction of Iran. Fast forward to 2013, Argentina's government says it's going to set up a truth commission with Iran to get to the bottom of the bombing.

MANGUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "People ask themselves, what was the point of inflection in Nisman's break with the government," she says, "and this was it." Nisman said, "this is a commission of impunity. This is the death of the AMIA case."

So according to Manguel, that's when Nisman begins to investigate the government. He thought they were trying to freeze the inquiry. Last week he was just about to present what he said was evidence that President Cristina Fernandez and members of her government were doing just that, cozying up to Iran to get oil for the energy-starved country. But he ended up dead. President Cristina Fernandez herself came out and said she believes that Nisman was murdered by ex-members of her intelligence services whom she just fired. Romina Manguel says there are many theories.

MANGUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "many say this profoundly hurts the president, and she is now stained in blood. So this was done to hurt the president during an election year. Others say it was done by the government to implicate the intelligence services who'd gotten out of control."

MANGUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says that "I am discussing who killed who 20 years after the AMIA bombing - if it was the government or the intelligence services who killed the lead investigator on a terrorist case speaks to the moment that we're living in."

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.