Eighteen major US Jewish organizations in the United States called on the US on Tuesday to exert pressure on Jordan’s King Abdullah to extradite Ahlam Tamimi, the Jordanian terrorist who orchestrated the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two American nationals.
Expressing “our collective outrage over the Kingdom of Jordan’s refusal to extradite the murderer of American citizens,” the organizations urged the US to hold “Jordan accountable to its commitments under its extradition treaty with the United States and bring all pressure to bear, including but not limited to recent government legislation significantly impacting US financial aid to Jordan.”
The US groups’ public declaration comes shortly before the August 9 anniversary of the attack, in which a further 130 people were injured. An additional victim, a young mother who is also an American national, has been comatose ever since the bombing.
Arnold and Frimet Roth, whose daughter Malki was among those killed in the attack, and who have been battling for the US to bring Tamimi to justice, called the Jewish groups’ announcement “a breakthrough in our efforts to see the mastermind of the August 9, 2001 Sbarro pizzeria massacre, the savage killer of our beloved daughter Malki, brought to justice.” Malki Roth, 15, was a dual Israeli-US citizen.
The Roths noted that other organizations, as well as individuals, have also “given us generous active help in this long-running effort. We are hugely grateful to them.”
The Roths noted that Tamimi, “the unrepentant Jordanian woman and Hamas agent who was convicted in Israel for her role in choosing the central Jerusalem pizzeria as the target for the massive bombing attack,” has been charged in the United States “under a Federal law aimed at terrorists who kill Americans outside US territory.”
In their statement, the US Jewish groups express “our collective outrage over the Kingdom of Jordan’s refusal to extradite the murderer of American citizens.” The groups say they “stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and their quest for justice.” They call upon the US government “to hold the Kingdom of Jordan accountable to its commitments under its extradition treaty with the United States and bring all pressure to bear, including, but not limited to, recent government legislation significantly impacting US financial aid to Jordan.” And they pledge “to join forces with the families of the victims until their demand to see justice meted-out to the murderer of American citizens is realized.”
The 18 signatories, in alphabetical order, are
• Agudath Israel of America
• AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee
• B’nai B’rith International
• Bnai Zion Foundation
• Coalition for Jewish Values
• Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
• Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
• Jewish Federations of North America
• National Council of Young Israel
• NCSEJ: National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry
• Rabbinical Alliance of America
• Rabbinical Assembly
• Rabbinical Council of America
• Religious Zionists of America – Mizrachi
• Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
• World Jewish Congress North America
• Yeshiva University
• Zionist Organization of America.
The Jewish groups noted that Tamimi “was a 21-year-old newsreader at a Palestinian Arab television station in the summer of 2001” when she orchestrated the bombing. “She would later claim credit for the attack, admitting to scouting the location of Sbarro… and bringing the bomb to its door.
“She has boasted for the record that two of the factors leading her to pick the pizzeria as a bombing target were the crowds that gathered there during lunch hour and that she ‘knew there was a Jewish religious school nearby…’ If there was any cloud in her bright skies, it was – in her words – that ‘I admit that I was a bit disappointed because I had hoped for a larger toll’.”
Tamimi was arrested weeks after the attack and tried in an Israeli court, where she confessed to all the charges, the groups noted. She was sentenced to 16 terms of life imprisonment. “But she was conditionally freed in a 2011 deal in which Israel secured the release of Gilad Shalit, held hostage by Hamas for five years,” the Jewish groups recalled.
“We have been working hard to move public opinion in the US to stand with us,” said Arnold Roth on Tuesday. “It’s ongoing. The organizations whose support we’re announcing today speak publicly and with one voice in this extraordinary call for justice for Malki and the other Sbarro victims. It’s time that Jordan’s disregard for its legal, diplomatic and moral obligations to hand Tamimi over to US justice was brought to an end.”
The American organizations’ statement comes four weeks after AP reported the Trump administration is considering the withholding of assistance to Jordan as leverage to secure Tamimi’s extradition to Washington.
The Trump administration said it was weighing “all options” to press Jordan to extradite Tamimi, who is wanted by the US on a charge of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against American nationals. The charge was filed under seal in 2013 and announced by the Justice Department four years later.
Tamimi is on the FBI’s wanted terrorists list for her role in escorting the suicide bomber from Ramallah to the crowded Jerusalem pizzeria where he struck. It was one of the deadliest terror attacks during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising. She has expressed no remorse.
Tamimi has lived freely in Jordan since Israel released her in the 2011 prisoner swap with terror group Hamas, hosted a TV program, given lectures and made numerous public appearances extolling the bombing. Jordanian authorities have rebuffed US requests to turn her over, despite the US-Jordan extradition treaty.
The US “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020,” which was signed into law on December 20, provides (section 7055) for financial consequences for Jordan if the case is not handled properly. Jordan has a large Palestinian population and it is unclear if a threat over aid would cause it to rethink its position.
The State Department last month said that billions of dollars of foreign assistance to Jordan could be used as leverage to get Jordanian authorities to extradite Tamimi.
The threat came in written answers submitted by the administration’s nominee for ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to questions posed by Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.
“The United States has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi’s extradition,” Wooster wrote. “We will continue to engage Jordanian officials at all levels not only on this issue, but also on the extradition treaty more broadly. US generosity to Jordan in Foreign Military Financing as well as economic support and other assistance is carefully calibrated to protect and advance the range of US interests in Jordan and in the region.”
Asked specifically if aid to Jordan would be part of that leverage in the Tamimi case, Wooster replied: “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 extradition treaty.”
The reference to aid in Wooster’s response was unusual. Previously, the Trump administration, and the Obama administration before it, had taken a low-key approach to Tamimi, bringing it up in private conversations with Jordanian officials but shying away from a public fight with a rare Arab country that recognizes Israel and has been a dependable source of intelligence information about the region, including in neighboring Syria.
The US has long been a major provider of aid to Jordan. In early 2018, the Trump administration signed a five-year, $6.4 billion aid agreement with Jordan that increased the annual amount of aid by $275 million to $1.3 billion. That boost “highlights the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability and supports US objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation and economic development,” the State Department said then.
“As much as issues like justice get noisy public support, the odds tend to be stacked against people who want to see actual justice done in actual cases where they feel personally engaged,” Roth told The Times of Israel last month. “As parents of Malki, one of the child victims among the many innocents whose lives ended in the Sbarro pizzeria massacre, we encounter obstructiveness and double-talking officials far too often. I have no interest in hiding how embittering and frustrating this is.
“Reports today of US officials challenging the Jordanians over their sheltering of Ahlam Tamimi are encouraging. No one can be sure this is going to lead to justice, least of all us. But it’s a meaningful step forward in exposing — and we hope ending — a dark chapter.”
Added Arnold Roth: “Ahlam Tamimi, who chose Sbarro as her target and brought the human bomb there because of the children she knew would be murdered, should never have been freed. And once freed and back in Jordan, she should never have been allowed to become an adored celebrity. And once she was famous, Jordan should have jumped at the opportunity to hand [her] over to their most important ally, the US. We long for the day she faces justice in a US court.”
Roth told AP that his attempts to speak to Jordanian officials, including a letter sent to the ambassador in Washington last year, have been ignored. “The Jordanians have been egregiously rude and unhelpful in every possible way which we’ve tried to engage with them,” he said.
Roth said he has begun to make progress with members of the US Congress, citing an April 30 letter signed by seven Republican lawmakers to Jordan’s ambassador seeking Tamimi’s extradition.
“My wife and I have been battling since February 2012 to see the United States charge, extradite and prosecute this horrifying fugitive from justice who proudly boasts of murdering so many children,” he said.
The blast at the Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem went off on the afternoon of August 9, 2001. The terrorist detonated explosives hidden in a guitar case packed with nails. Among the people killed were seven between the ages of 2 and 16, and scores were wounded.
Tamimi, a Hamas activist who chose the target and guided the bomber there, said in a 2017 interview with the AP that Palestinians have a right to resist Israeli rule by any means, including deliberately targeting uninvolved civilians and children.
In 2017, Jordan’s high court ruled she could not be extradited to the US, reportedly saying the 1995 extradition treaty had not been ratified. Tamimi has also claimed the US has no right to charge her because she was already tried and sentenced in Israel.
The US insisted in a report last year that the extradition treaty is valid in the case of Tamimi.
Arnold Roth told The Times of Israel in May, “There is wall-to-wall agreement among the legal experts at the Department of Justice that there is no ‘double jeopardy’ concern.”
He added: “She was convicted of acts of murder on her own confession. She has now been indicted with different charges and in a different jurisdiction.”
The charge filed by the Department of Justice against Tamimi is one of “conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against US nationals outside the US, resulting in death.”