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‘We Have Been Betrayed’: As Billions Flow to Jordan, US Remains Mum on Extradition of Palestinian Terrorist Ahlam Tamimi

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avatar by Andrew Bernard

Feature

An FBI ‘Most Wanted Terrorist’ poster for Palestinian terrorist Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi, one of the perpetrators of the August 2001 bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. Photo: FBI.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is widely considered one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East. US aid to Jordan has quietly tripled in the past 15 years, overtaking every regular US aid recipient in the world except Israel. December’s Congressional omnibus spending bill gave the kingdom $1.65 billion – $200 million more than the two countries had agreed to in a seven-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in September. A White House press readout from July of President Joe Biden’s most recent meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II describes the “unwavering support” the US provides Jordan.

One item conspicuously absent was the case of Ahlam Tamimi, a Jordanian-Palestinian woman who sits at #4 on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists for her role in the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem. The Sbarro bombing, deliberately timed to hit the busy lunchtime crowd at the restaurant, took the lives of 15 people.

Two of the dead were American citizens — Malki Roth and Judith Shoshana Greenbaum, a 31-year-old New Jersey native who was pregnant at the time. More than 100 people were wounded in the attack, including four other Americans.

“It was the most traumatic experience of our lives,” said Malki’s father, Arnold Roth. “Very quickly it became clear that the woman who did it was Ahlam Tamimi, she drove the whole project. She was the one who scouted the site. She was the one who brought the bomb.”

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Following her capture by the Israeli authorities, Tamimi was sentenced to 16 consecutive life terms in jail. She served just eight years before she was released along with more than 1,000 other convicted Palestinian terrorists in the 2011 deal between Israel and Hamas that secured the freedom of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier held captive in Gaza.

Since then, Tamimi has been living free in Jordan. The kingdom refuses to extradite her to the United States, where she has been charged with a capital crime, despite a 1995 extradition treaty between the two countries. Jordan’s highest court in 2017 blocked her extradition to the US, arguing that the treaty was never ratified by Jordan’s parliament.

In media appearances since her release, Tamimi has gloated about her role in the bombing and her continued escape from justice.

“Being in Jordan has given me strength,” she told Al-Jazeera in 2019. “Why are we considered to be terrorists? Why am I, Ahlam, considered to be a terrorist when I am part of a movement for freedom and national liberation?”

A Long Campaign for Justice

Roth and his wife Frimet continue to fight to bring his daughter’s killer to justice through their blog, “This Ongoing War,” and to honor her legacy through the Malki Foundation, but say that for years they have received short shrift from elected US officials and the State Department.

“No one wants to talk to us. We’re the unwanted guests of the wedding. And no one has any good answers for us in Washington,” Roth said. 

Roth said that after the arrest warrant for Tamimi was unveiled at a Department of Justice briefing in Washington, DC, on March 14, 2017, his attempts to check on progress in the Tamimi case were too often met with a wall of silence.

Years later, the situation remains largely the same.

A State Department spokesperson told The Algemeiner that they are “committed to seeing the terrorist Ahlam Al Tamimi face justice in the United States,” and that they take her case “seriously” given her role in an attack that killed 15 people, including two Americans.

Publicly, Biden Administration officials have also said that the Tamimi case remains a matter of concern, and some congressional Republicans have pushed legislatively for her extradition and in letters to the Jordanian government. Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) in April 2022 introduced legislation that would limit aid to Jordan until it honors the extradition treaty. The act did not proceed to a vote in the House.

“The US government continues to seek her extradition and the Government of Jordan’s assistance in bringing her to justice for her role in the heinous attack,” the US National Security Council said in a statement in July.

For Roth, such responses are woefully insufficient.

“What does ‘continues to seek’ mean in these circumstances? he said. “This isn’t Saddam Hussein that you’re trying to bring to comply with your request. You have to ask yourself, why is it that on the one hand, the United States keeps saying we really, really want to bring her to justice – and at the same time, it keeps praising Jordan to the skies and keeps pumping money to the point where Jordan has now gone on top of the list? You don’t need to be obsessive to step back from that and say, ‘this is really weird.’” 

Since Jordan refused to hand Tamimi over, US aid to the Kingdom continues to flow despite a provision in recent spending bills that no assistance be provided to countries refusing to honor extradition treaties for crimes that carry the death penalty or a life sentence, as Tamimi’s does.

Ben Fishman, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described to The Algemeiner why Congress continues to provide massive amounts of aid to Jordan.

“I would characterize [the US-Jordan strategic relationship] as strongly bipartisan,” Fishman said. “There’s a lot of sympathy for Jordan’s position and a willingness to support Jordan with both aid and strategic elements of our diplomacy to make sure that Jordan is as stable as possible. In part, because an unstable Jordan reflects an unstable region and ultimately is bad for Israel.”

Roth, however, believes that successive US administrations have lacked the willpower to force Jordan’s hand in demanding Tamimi’s extradition.

“The United States holds all of the cards in this relationship and never wants to own up to it,” he said. 

While the US might be able to force a deal by withholding aid, the Washington Institute’s Fishman says the nature of the US-Jordan relationship would make that move a mistake.

“We don’t threaten aid to our friends,” he said. “It would shoot ourselves in the foot to withhold this aid, because that’s a critical part of what Jordan needs to survive for the time being and we want Jordan to survive. And dealing with one difficult case in a professional way and a legal way is far better than threatening something that ultimately isn’t in our interest anyway.”

“It’s obviously a very difficult domestic issue within Jordan,” he said. “It shouldn’t be. But it is.” 

The Algemeiner reached out to the Jordanian Embassy in Washington for comment about whether the Jordanian government believes it has a valid extradition treaty with the United States and for its views on the Ahlam Tamimi case, but they did not provide a response.

Despite his uphill battle, Roth remains committed to seeing Tamimi brought to justice.

“There’s never been a political dimension in the way we see it,” he said. “It’s not about the Arab/Israel conflict, nor about Dems vs. GOP. It’s not about anything but the doing of justice. On the doing of justice, the fair and honest way to describe what we are experiencing is that we are being betrayed. We’re pushing ahead and have no intention of surrendering but it pains Frimet and me that we are forced to do this essentially alone.”

Follow Algemeiner Washington Correspondent Andrew Bernard on Twitter @AndrewJBernie

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