Panama's Varela says 'terrorism' cause of 1994 plane crash

Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela arrives to lay a wreath on the tomb of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

By Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama's president said on Monday a 1994 plane explosion in the country that killed 21 people, most of them Jewish, was the result of a terrorist attack and called for the case to be re-opened.

President Juan Carlos Varela told reporters that Israel provided reports late last year about the plane crash, whose victims included prominent Jewish Panamanian businessmen and which stirred suspicion of hate-motivated sabotage.

The 1994 crash came soon after a bomb at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people, raising concerns that Jews worldwide could increasingly become the targets of militants amid tense peace talks in the Middle East.

Varela told reporters he will ask Panamanian and Israeli authorities to reinvestigate the incident.

"I've requested the re-opening of the case given intelligence reports that clearly show it was a terrorist attack," he said.

The 1994 Panamanian President-elect, Ernest Perez Balladares, said at the time sources close to the investigation told him they believed the apparent mid-air explosion to have been caused by a bomb.

(Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Paul Tait)