The parents of an American victim of a devastating Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001 are calling on the US Congress to investigate why one of the planners of the atrocity — Hamas terrorist Ahlam al-Tamimi — remains at large in Jordan, nearly three years after the US Department of Justice issued a warrant for her arrest.
Arnold Roth — whose 15-year-old daughter Malki was murdered in the Aug. 9, 2001 attack at a Sbarro pizza restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, in which Tamimi played a key operational role — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that he and his wife, Frimet, were urging American legislators to probe concerns that efforts to bring Tamimi to justice had been subordinated to continued good relations with Jordan.
The Hashemite kingdom’s highest court rebuffed a US request for Tamimi’s deportation to America in March 2017, despite an extradition treaty agreed on by the two countries in 1995.
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.
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.
After the prisoner exchange, Tamimi set herself up in the Jordanian capital of Amman as a media personality, hosting her own show on satellite television and frequently celebrating her participation in the Sbarro bombing.
Nearly 200 of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal have been incarcerated again, in most cases for renewed involvement in terrorist activities, or for violating the conditions of their release; Jordanian citizen Tamimi, however, lives openly and defiantly in Amman, and has expressed her firm belief that Jordan will not send her for trial in the US.
“Being in Jordan has given me strength, because Jordan does not have an extradition agreement [sic] with the United States,” Tamimi claimed in an interview with the Qatari network Al Jazeera this past March. “This led to the issuing of a legal decision refusing my extradition, and Jordan’s position on that matter is very clear.”
She continued: “Why am I, Ahlam, considered to be a terrorist, when I am part of a movement for freedom and national liberation?”
The Roths’ frustration at seeing their daughter’s killer portraying herself as a national hero on the Arab world’s largest broadcaster has been compounded by what they view as politically-based interference with US Department of Justice efforts to have Tamimi arrested and extradited.
“To an extent that has surprised us, our interactions with American government officials have been unrewarding and often humiliating,” Arnold Roth told The Algemeiner. “State Department officials, including its diplomats, have been notably unhelpful.”
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.
“Instead of seeing justice done, we have been witness to one arm of the US executive branch getting tangled up with another in what seem like turf wars, as the bomber grins and boasts in one worshipful media interview after another,” he added.
In January 2018 — nine months after the DoJ issued its warrant — the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program announced a $5 million reward for Tamimi’s capture. While the Roths welcomed the move, since the reward was made public no one in the program “has ever troubled themselves to respond to our questions and efforts to talk to them about this,” Roth said.
In the interim, the Roths’ faith in US efforts has virtually collapsed, as dozens of emails, letters and other communications sent by the couple to government officials, several of them seen by The Algemeiner, have either gone unanswered or received only cursory responses.
“If I had to sum it up, my wife and I have been stunned — as victims seeking justice in a case where the highest levels of terrorism charges have been laid out, and where the fugitive is on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted Terrorists’ list with a $5 million reward on her head — by how little respect officials have had for our questions,” Roth said.
Roth is now hoping that the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), will launch an investigation into the government’s handling of the Tamimi case file.
Among those supporting Roth’s request is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has publicly raised the issue of Tamimi in testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services, as well as in private meetings with both US and Jordanian government officials.
“One of America’s most wanted terrorists is still enjoying legal impunity in Jordan, and the responses we have received so far from the Jordanian government and the Trump administration are simply inadequate,” David Weinberg — the ADL’s Washington director for international affairs — told The Algemeiner.
“We strongly support congressional oversight to ensure that this travesty of justice is swiftly resolved,” Weinberg added.
A State Department official told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that the US government was committed to bringing Tamimi to justice.
Tamimi was “an unrepentant and dangerous terrorist who should be brought to justice for her role in the August 2001 bombing attack that killed two of our citizens and 13 other individuals,” the official said.
Asked about the Jordanian government’s negative response to the US extradition request for Tamimi in 2017, the official emphasized that the State Department’s view “is that the 1995 extradition treaty with Jordan entered into force on July 29, 1995, and remains valid today.”
The official noted that “Jordan remains a committed US partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism. But the Jordanian courts have declined to extradite al-Tamimi.”
The official would not comment further “on any communications we may or may not have had with the Jordanian government on this matter.” But, the official stated, “we will never forget the lives of Americans and others lost in the August 2001 attack planned and executed by Hamas terrorist Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi.”
While annual trade between the US and Jordan stands at a comparatively modest $1.4 billion, maintaining the kingdom’s political stability and preventing a repeat there of the violent discord in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq has been a long-standing American imperative. The US is Jordan’s single largest provider of bilateral assistance, providing over $1.7 billion in 2017, including $1.3 billion in bilateral foreign aid and over $200 million in Department of Defense support.
US President Donald Trump lavished praise on Jordan’s role in the Middle East following a meeting in June 2018 with King Abdullah II.
“The job you do is fantastic,” Trump declared at a joint press conference with the Jordanian monarch. “We spend a lot of money, we do, but we spend a lot of money in a lot of places, and people don’t do the job you do, so I want to thank you.”
The Algemeiner (c) 2019 . Ben Cohen