Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a resident of Jordan, should be extradited to the United States to face justice for having planned and implemented one of the most atrocious attacks ever mounted by Palestinian terrorists in Israel.
The Trump administration is reportedly weighing “all options” to decide whether it should exert pressure on King Abdullah II of Jordan to extradite her. It’s debatable whether he would accede to Washington’s demand, but if he refused the United States could seriously consider cutting off some or all economic and military aid to Jordan.
This would pose a problem for Washington. Jordan is one of its closest allies in the Arab world and only one of two Arab states that has signed a peace treaty with Israel. These are important considerations for the United States, but the Tamimi case should not be swept under the rug.
Tamimi, having been charged in 2013 with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against American nationals, is on the FBI’s list of “most wanted terrorists.”
She achieved her infamous status during the second Palestinian uprising, which was far bloodier than the first one.
On August 9, 2001, Al-Tamimi, then a 20-year-old university student, guided West Bank suicide bomber Izz Al-Din Shuheil Al-Masri to the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem. Al-Tamimi, a Hamas activist disguised as a Jewish tourist, chose the target.
Al-Masri, 22, detonated explosives concealed in a guitar case packed with nails. Fifteen civilians were killed, including two American citizens and a Brazilian, and 130 people were injured. Seven of the victims were between the ages of two and 16.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Israel arrested Al-Tamimi several weeks later, and following a trial, she was sentenced to 16 life terms. She and other imprisoned Palestinians were released in 2011 in a prisoner swap in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 while on duty at Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.
Al-Tamimi moved to Jordan, and in media interviews, she said that Palestinians have a right to resist Israel’s occupation of the West Bank by any means. She expressed no remorse for the attack and gloated over the high death toll.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court in Jordan ruled that she could not be extradited on the grounds that Jordan’s 1995 extradition treaty with the United States had not been ratified.
Al-Tamimi claims the United States has no right to charge her because she has already served time in Israel.
Arnold Roth, an American whose 15-year-old daughter, Malka, was killed in the Sbarro bombing, categorically rejects these arguments. In 2012, he and his wife launched a campaign seeking Al-Tamimi’s extradition to the United States to stand trial for her complicity in their daughter’s tragic death.
Given its strategic interests in Jordan, the United States adopted a low-key approach to the case, refraining from publicizing it. But Roth pushed on, convincing seven members of the House of Representatives to join his cause. On April 30, in a letter to Jordan’s ambassador in Washington, they called for Al-Tamimi’s extradition to the United States.
A few days ago, Al-Tamimi’s family sent a letter to King Abdullah II urging him to resist U.S. pressure and to “close the file” against her.
It remains to be seen whether he will comply with their request, but this issue will most likely come up this week when he appears remotely before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
That’s when the issue of American aid to Jordan may be discussed in connection with the Al-Tamimi affair.
In 2018, the Trump administration signed a $6.4 billion aid agreement with Jordan over five years to increase its annual assistance to $1.3 billion.
According to the U.S. State Department, this largesse is in recognition of “the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability,” in supporting the campaign to defeat Islamic State, and in the fields of “counter-terrorism cooperation and economic development.”
In the meantime, the Trump administration’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently that the American aid package to Jordan can be leveraged to obtain Al-Tamimi’s extradition.
As he put it, “If confirmed, I would explore all options to bring Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi to justice, secure her extradition, and address the broader issues associated with the (U.S.-Jordanian) extradition treaty.”