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Special prosecutor found shot dead

A special prosecutor who had accused Argentine president Cristina Fernandez of shielding Iranian suspects in the South American country's worst terrorist attack was found dead with a gunshot wound, authorities said, a development that drew outrage from Jewish leaders.

Alberto Nisman, who was set to testify today in a congressional hearing about the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre, was found in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment late yesterday, federal prosecutor Viviana Fein told Telam, Argentina's official news agency.

"We can confirm that it was a gunshot wound, .22 calibre," she said, adding that it was too early in the investigation to know what had happened.

Mr Nisman lived in Le Parc tower, a complex of luxury condos in the trendy Puerto Madero neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. Reporters and others gathered outside were not allowed to enter, the norm in such exclusive complexes, where many residents come and go via underground parking garages.

Mr Nisman had 10 federal police assigned to his protection, according to a statement from the Health Ministry, which did not provide details on where the officers were posted when Mr Nisman died. Government officials, including cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich, have declined to comment on the investigation.

Mr Nisman was appointed 10 years ago by Ms Fernandez's late husband, then-president Nestor Kirchner, to revive a floundering investigation into the bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and injured more than 200.

A small white van with several hundred pounds of explosives detonated in front of the seven-storey building, causing it to collapse in the densely populated area of town.

Argentina has one of the largest concentrations of Jews outside of Israel, with estimates ranging about 200,000, mostly in Buenos Aires.

After years of inconclusive investigations and failed trials, an Argentine judge in 2006 accepted Mr Nisman's request to order the arrest of a former Iranian president, foreign minister and other officials. Interpol later put most of them on its most-wanted list.

But Argentina and Iran reached agreement in 2013 to jointly investigate the attack, a move viewed with scepticism by Jewish leaders who feared it would undermine Mr Nisman's probe.

Last week, Mr Nisman accused Ms Fernandez and other senior Argentine officials of agreeing not to punish at least two former Iranian officials in the case. He asked a judge to call Mr Fernandez and others, including foreign minister Hector Timerman, for questioning.

"The president and her foreign minister took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran's innocence to sate Argentina's commercial, political and geopolitical interests," Mr Nisman said last week.

A federal judge had begun the process of deciding whether to hear the complaint and whether anyone should be summoned for questioning.

Ms Fernandez has yet to comment on the allegations, and by early afternoon today had not commented on Mr Nisman's death. Last week, administration officials have called the prosecutor's allegations ludicrous.

Ms Fernandez's administration's popularity has waned amid rising inflation and other economic ills and Mr Nisman's death could further cloud her last year in office.

Opposition congresswoman Patricia Bullrich told local news media that Mr Nisman told her he had received threats after denouncing the president.

Late yesterday, federal police agents in charge of Mr Nisman's protection alerted their superiors that he was not answering phone calls, according to the Health Ministry statement. When he also did not answer the door, they decided to alert family members, according to the statement.

When Mr Nisman's mother was not able to open the door because a key was in the lock on the other side, a locksmith was called to open it, the ministry said. A .22 calibre handgun and a shell casing were found next to Mr Nisman's body.

Israel's foreign ministry expressed "deep sorrow" over his death.

"Nisman, a courageous, venerable jurist who fought intrepidly for justice, acted with determination to expose the identities of the terrorists and their dispatchers," a ministry statement said.

Hours after news of Mr Nisman's death spread, a well-known group called Indignant Argentines called for demonstrations in several areas of Buenos Aires.

"Nisman died but his denouncement does not," Sergio Bergman, a prominent rabbi in Buenos Aires, posted on Twitter. "Our sorrow and condemnation will result in more memory, truth and justice!"

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