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Former Iran envoy in UK court

Tehran denies any involvement in the 1994 bombing.
Tehran denies any involvement in the 1994 bombing.

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LONDON, England -- A former Iranian ambassador to Argentina has appeared in a British court over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85 people.

Hade Soleimanpour, 47, was arrested Thursday at his home in Durham, northeast England, on an extradition warrant, police sources said.

Soleimanpour, who is a research student in Durham, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London Friday to hear charges against him in the first phase of a complicated British extradition process that could take months.

The hearing was suspended for an hour at the request of Soleimanpour's lawyer.

A judge in Argentina last week issued an arrest warrant through Interpol for Soleimanpour and seven other Iranian officials in connection with the car bombing, which also injured about 200 people.

Israel and the United States have long said they suspected Iranian-backed Middle Eastern guerillas were responsible for the attack. Iran, branded by Washington as one of an "axis of evil" states that sponsor terrorism, denies involvement.

Police said Soleimanpour was arrested on a warrant alleging that on or before July 18, 1994 he conspired with others to murder people at the AMIA Jewish center.

Tehran, which withdrew its ambassador to Argentina after being implicated in the bomb, reacted angrily to the arrest.

"The measure had been politically motivated and has been carried out under the influence of the Zionists. It is meant to serve the interests of the Zionist regime," the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi as saying.

Marta Nercellas, the lawyer representing the AMIA center in Buenos Aires, said she believed Britain would extradite Soleimanpour, who she said did not have diplomatic immunity.

"He participated in a very concrete way in organizing the attack. The (Iranian) embassy in Argentina was used as the base from which they gathered intelligence information that had to do with the massacre," Nercellas told Argentine television.

"This is going to allow us to make progress in finding the international connection."

Argentina's 300,000-strong Jewish community is the biggest in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world. In 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 29 people.

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