1705477071 The table tennis teacher the hairdresser and an alleged Spanish

The table tennis teacher, the hairdresser and an alleged Spanish mercenary: the story of the fake terrorist cell that kept Argentina in suspense

The table tennis teacher the hairdresser and an alleged Spanish

Three men arrested by Argentine police since January 3 and suspected of being part of a terrorist cell planning an attack in Buenos Aires were released on Monday due to a lack of evidence against them. A Buenos Aires hairdresser, a table tennis instructor of Syrian descent and a suspected Spanish mercenary who accused them of posing as an “inorganic agent” of the US Embassy spent nearly two weeks in prison as the Argentine government recounted the plot from the flesh. The judge who investigated the case ruled that the case was “flawed,” uncovering a story that collapsed after the Security Ministry followed his leads for half a month.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich announced the arrest of the three men on Wednesday, January 3, following an operation to monitor Buenos Aires airports over the New Year's weekend. The three men, he said at the time, would enter the Argentine capital on separate flights and wait for a package that would arrive from Yemen. It was all wrong, but President Javier Milei's alignment with Israel during the conflict with Hamas in Gaza and the “iron fist” policy promoted by Bullrich mobilized the authorities. The government was concerned that one of them had made a reservation at a hotel two blocks from the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.

The conspiracy, revealed days later through an investigation by the portal elDiarioAR, was the invention of a man named Juan Manuel Ledesma, an Argentine-Spanish man in his 50s who called himself El Rubio. Ledesma denied before the judge that he was a US agent, as he had initially explained, and claimed to be a former police officer, independent journalist, intelligence and security contractor and former member of the French Legion. The evidence he presented was an interview with the portal elespanol.com in 2016, in which he said he was involved in the rescue of 55 girls who had been kidnapped by the Boko Haram guerrilla group in Nigeria two years earlier.

In his investigative statement, El Rubio said that an acquaintance, a concierge at a hotel in central Buenos Aires, told him that he was suspicious about the reservation made by a guest of Syrian origin and a Venezuelan passport. Then he linked it to another story he had heard at the end of December: his hairdresser had stopped working at his usual place of work and when he asked his boss why, she told him that she had fired him and was worried that he would Doing this would cause problems. The hairdresser had told him that he was about to become the victim of a scam on social networks, where he had met an alleged American woman who insisted that he make her a transfer of almost a thousand dollars for a gift from him Yemen would send her. The man reported the fraud but, just in case, asked his boss to reject any suspicious packages on his behalf. El Rubio brought the matter together and denounced the two men.

“I made it up in my head,” he said in his statement to the judge. During these days, the Argentine president inaugurated the Pan-American Maccabee Games, a multi-sport event for athletes of Jewish origin. Tensions in the Middle East in Gaza, Iran and Yemen were escalating and the man believed that Argentina could be the target of an anti-Semitic attack like before in the 1990s. He then alerted a well-known police officer, who in turn informed the Israeli embassy that a suspected terrorist cell, consisting of three people of Syrian-Lebanese origin, who were under investigation in Colombia, was traveling to Argentina to “send something false.” Without being able to clarify the origin of his complaint, El Rubio was also arrested.

Ramón Alberto Domínguez, the hairdresser, talked for months with an alleged woman who, after offering him gifts and telling him that she wanted to move to Argentina, began threatening him to pay $900 for the alleged package, that he should send her. Domínguez reported it in October and the Argentine Federal Police claimed it was “a typical scam,” according to the newspaper Página/12. While a judge investigated, Domínguez was detained for two weeks along with Naem Chatay Chassan, 67, who traveled from Colombia to Argentina to set up a gym where he would teach table tennis classes, an activity he was already practicing in Bogota. His reservation at a modest hotel in the center of the Argentine capital, which happened to be two blocks from the Israeli embassy, ​​and his dual nationality fueled the security ministry's fears.

The judge in charge of the case, María Eugenia Capuchetti, released them on Monday, considering that the evidence was “insufficient” to conclude that the three men were part of a transnational criminal organization, but ordered that they remain in the country “for now” as he concluded his statement. The Argentine government has not made any statements on this matter.