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Argentine prosecutor who accused Kirchner found dead

An Argentine prosecutor found dead just hours before giving what was expected to be damning testimony against President Cristina Kirchner appears to have committed suicide, officials said Monday.

Buenos Aires: An Argentine prosecutor found dead just hours before giving what was expected to be damning testimony against President Cristina Kirchner appears to have committed suicide, officials said Monday.

"All signs point to suicide," said Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni following the death of Alberto Nisman, 51, whose body was found overnight in his apartment in the trendy Puerto Madero neighborhood of the capital.

Federal prosecutor Viviana Fein said Nisman died of "a gunshot wound to the temple," and said results of an autopsy completed earlier Monday would be released "in the coming hours."

Nisman, who had accused President Cristina Kirchner of obstructing a probe into a 1994 Jewish center bombing, was found dead of a gunshot wound just hours before he was due to testify at a congressional hearing.

The development set off an uproar in Argentina with officials expressing shock over his untimely death.

Anibal Fernandez, secretary general for the presidency, said he was "dumbfounded," adding there was "absolutely nothing normal" about it.

Kirchner, in an statement released through her intelligence minister Oscar Parrilli, ordered the de-classification of intelligence information Nisman had sought a week before his death.

Israel expressed sorrow over Nisman`s death, praising him as a courageous jurist who "worked with great determination to expose the attack`s perpetrators and dispatchers."

"The State of Israel hopes Argentina`s authorities will continue Nisman`s work, and take every possible effort to bring those behind the Argentina attacks to justice," an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said. 

Officials said a .22-caliber handgun was found beside Nisman`s body, which was discovered by his mother in the bathroom of his 13th floor apartment after his security detail was unable to contact him.

Nisman since 2004 had been investigating the 1994 van bombing of the building of the Argentine Jewish Charities Federation, or AMIA. 

The bombing left 85 people dead and 300 others injured in the worst attack of its kind in the South American country.

Nisman last week had asked for an investigation into possible obstruction by Kirchner and was due to speak at a congressional hearing Monday to provide evidence of his assertions.

He was also expected to lodge accusations against her foreign minister Hector Timerman.

Timerman, who strongly denied the accusations against him, said he expected prosecutors to pursue whatever evidence Nisman had.

"There are many people who were aware of what Nisman wanted to present today in Congress and I expect they will go forward with his work," he told reporters in New York.

The prosecutor had accused Iran of being behind the attack and said Kirchner hampered the inquiry to curry favor with the Islamic republic and gain access to its oil.

The government has categorically denied the accusations.

Nisman had also accused former president Carlos Menem (1989-99) of helping obstruct an investigation into the bombing, which has never been solved.

Since 2006, Argentine courts have demanded the extradition of eight Iranians, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former defense minister Ahmad Vahidi and Mohsen Rabbani, Iran`s former cultural attache in Buenos Aires.

Argentina charges that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement, carried out the attack under orders from Iran, which Tehran denies.Nisman had said he had phone recordings that show the Kirchner government and Argentine authorities had bowed to Iranian demands after the Islamic republic dangled lucrative commercial contracts.

The intelligence information that Kirchner ordered declassified following Nisman`s death involved wiretaps on four telephone numbers, Parrilli said. 

Nisman was supposed to present proof of his allegations that Kirchner and Timerman had a "plan of impunity" to "protect the Iranian fugitives."

In addition to his complaint, Nisman had ordered the freezing of assets worth some $23 million of Kirchner, Timerman and other officials.

Jewish community members had cautiously welcomed Nisman`s complaint, but also requested he make public evidence to back up his assertions.

Opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich said she was shocked by Nisman`s death, calling it "a grave affront to the country`s institutions."

Bullrich said she`d spoken to Nisman on the phone on Saturday on three occasions and he said that he had received several threats.

Elisa Carrio, leader of the Civic Coalition, an opposition party, bluntly called Nisman`s death "an assassination," saying she did not accept that it was a suicide.

In 2013, Argentina`s Congress approved, at the request of the executive branch, an agreement with Tehran to form a truth commission to investigate the bombing, consisting of five members from neither Argentina nor Iran.

It also authorized an Argentine judge to travel to Iran to question the former officials accused of involvement.

The Jewish center bombing came two years after an attack against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

In January 2014, Argentina accused Israel of concealing information about the attacks after a former Israeli ambassador to Argentina suggested that those responsible had been killed by Israeli security forces.

Argentina`s Jewish population of about 300,000 people is the largest in Latin America.