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Britain to Continue Holding Former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina - 2003-08-22

A former Iranian ambassador to Argentina will remain in custody in Britain pending a court decision on whether to extradite him to Argentina. Hadi Soleimanpur is wanted in Argentina for his alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. The court adjourned the extradition hearing Friday and ordered the former envoy held until August 29.

Argentine authorities allege Hadi Soleimanpur had been involved in the planning and commissioning of the bombing of the Jewish center nine years ago, in which 85 people died and hundreds were injured. Mr. Soleimanpur, along with seven other Iranians, faces conspiracy charges in Argentina.

But a lawyer for the former ambassador says his client has always publicly and strenuously denied these allegations.

Mr. Soleimanpur, now a researcher at Durham University in northeastern England, was arrested Thursday on an extradition warrant and held by local police pending Friday's court appearance. He was remanded in custody and ordered to appear before the court of August 29.

Earlier, an attorney for the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association in Buenos Aires said Mr. Soleimanpur's arrest is extremely important in the process of unraveling details about how the attack was organized. Argentina has the largest Jewish population in South America, estimated at around 300-thousand.

Iran has long denied it was in any way involved in the powerful blast, and denounced the arrest of the former diplomat as politically motivated and illegal.

Last March, Argentina's arrest warrants for four other Iranian diplomats caused tensions between Buenos Aires and Tehran, and the current Iranian ambassador to Argentina was recalled for consultations.

Just weeks ago, Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, called the slow progress in the investigation a "national disgrace." He vowed, on the ninth anniversary of the attack, to bring those responsible to justice.

Mr. Soleimanpur has been in Britain since February last year. The 47-year-old entered the country on a student visa.