WASHINGTON — The White House is rejecting claims by its Middle Eastern ally Jordan that a Palestinian-Jordanian terrorist who was involved in the murder of U.S. citizens cannot be extradited to face trial in the United States.
A new report published this week by the State Department says explicitly that the U.S. considers its extradition treaty with Jordan to be valid, despite a Jordanian court ruling from 2017 that said the opposite.
This development could lead to further American pressure on Jordan to extradite Ahlam Tamimi, a Hamas terrorist who played a major role in organizing the “Sbarro attack” in Jerusalem in August 2001, a suicide bombing which led to the deaths of 15 people, including two American citizens.
Tamimi currently lives in Jordan with her family. She was arrested by Israel in September 2001, convicted for her role in the attack in 2003, and sentenced to 16 life terms in prison; however, in 2011 she was released from prison as part of the “Shalit deal,” in which Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the release of one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, from captivity in Gaza.
After her release Tamimi moved to Jordan, where she was born and where most of her family currently resides. Ever since 2012, she has been living and working in Amman. Over the years, she has given many interviews, made public speeches, and has also hosted her own television show on a network affiliated with Hamas.
Ever since Tamimi’s release from prison, families who lost their loved ones in the Sbarro attack have been fighting to bring her to justice in the United States, where the justice system is obliged by law to pursue terrorists who killed American citizens abroad. Tamimi also appears on FBI’s most wanted terrorists list.
In 2017, progress was made toward bringing her to stand trial in the U.S., when the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled terror charges against her. Just days after that happened, however, Jordan’s highest court ruled that Jordanian law prohibited her extradition to the United States.
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Jordan has since claimed that Tamimi cannot be extradited and that the extradition agreement that the Kingdom had signed with the U.S. in 1995 was invalid. No progress on her extradition has been made since.
Two months ago, Haaretz reported that two senior members of Congress were pressing the Trump administration to act on the subject. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the committee’s ranking member, sent a joint letter to the Department of Justice, seeking answers on the subject.
The two lawmakers noted in their letter that despite previous indications that legal action against Tamimi would move forward in the United States, no progress has been made for the past two years. The main obstacle, they wrote, has been the Jordanian government’s refusal to cooperate with U.S. authorities in bringing her to trial, based on a false claim that Jordan was unable to do anything to comply with U.S. authorities on this subject.
Nadler and Collins asked the department to provide “information regarding the current status” of the efforts to “overcome these objections.”
This week, for the first time since the Jordanian court ruling two years ago, the U.S. government officially stated that it rejects Jordan’s position on the subject.
This new development appeared in the department’s annual report on terrorism around the world. While it praised Jordan and its security forces for their actions against terror organizations, it also mentioned the country's harboring of Tamimi.
“A U.S. criminal complaint was unsealed in 2017 charging Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death,” the report states.
The report further notes that “in 2018, Jordan continued to cite a court ruling that its constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals. The United States regards the extradition treaty as valid.”
Arnold Roth, whose daughter Malki, 15, was one of the U.S. citizens murdered in the Sbarro attack, told Haaretz that “what has just happened at the State Department is a welcome step in the direction of overdue justice. It will reverberate, though we realize many steps still lie ahead before we see Malki's killer in chains and handcuffs.”
Roth added, however, that he and his wife, who is also a U.S. citizen, have “knocked on a long list of U.S. government doors since Jordan's highest court blocked American efforts to bring Ahlam Tamimi to trial in Washington.
He said that "Being ignored by senior public figures, members of Congress, their staffers, officials, diplomats - that's been startling for us. We've learned it's easier for them to pretend we're not there, to just not take our calls, to leave our emails unanswered. Who wants to bump heads with the bereaved parents of a murdered child?”
Roth explained that since the Department of Justice has pursued the criminal complaint against Tamimi, the biggest question was how the U.S. could get Jordan to extradite her, despite the Hashemite Kingdom’s refusal to do so thus far.
“My impression is that the Justice Department made an important step in 2017 by deciding to prosecute Tamimi and committing to bring her to trial in the U.S., but they have reached the limit of their jurisdiction,” Roth said in a phone call from Jerusalem, adding that the State Department’s handling of the case has been disappointing and frustrating for the most part.
“In the past few weeks and for the first time, a senior U.S. government figure has entered the picture and indicated to my wife and me that there are quiet moves to press Jordan to comply with the extradition treaty,” Roth said. “Though the years of inaction have been hugely frustrating, it has been good to hear they do indeed want to see Tamimi brought to trial in Washington. They say it’s a matter of how and when.”
Roth noted that Jordan’s King Abdullah regularly visits Washington and meets with senior U.S. officials, and that the Tamimi case has never been publicly raised in the context of those meetings. Just in recent months, the King had met with senior Trump administration officials while visiting the U.S. in September, and then hosted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when she visited Amman two weeks ago.
“Our family is completely not political, we are not asking for anything except to see this person, who participated in the murder of our daughter, stand trial,” Roth said. “For us this is not about politics, it’s about justice.”