Trump Administration Weighs Cutting Aid to Pressure Jordan to Extradite Convicted Terrorist

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi
Ahlam Ahmad al-TamimiCredit: FBI
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is increasing its pressure on Jordan to extradite a Palestinian-Jordanian involved in the murder of U.S. citizens who has been living in that country since her release from an Israeli prison nine years ago.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that the White House is considering withholding or cutting military aid to Jordan if it continues to refuse to extradite Ahlam Tamimi, who the United States wants to try for her role in a 2001 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizza parlor.

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Tamimi was convicted of being one of the organizers of that attack, which killed 15 people, including two U.S. citizens. She was sentenced to 16 life sentences by an Israeli court in 2003, but was released from prison in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal in which the government released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas.

After her early release from prison, Tamimi moved to Jordan, where most of her family resides. Over the past nine years, she has become a public persona there, appearing on television programs and giving media interviews. Throughout, the parents of Malki Roth, a 15-year-old Israeli and American dual citizen who was murdered in the Jerusalem attack, have waged a public campaign demanding that she face trial in the U.S.

Jordan and the U.S. have a joint extradition agreement, but Jordan’s reply to the growing pressure over the years to extradite Tamimi has been that the agreement is invalid. Last year, the State Department rejected the Jordanian claim and insisted in a written report that the extradition agreement was valid and applied to Tamimi’s case. 

The aftermath of the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem in August, 2001.Credit: Eyal Warshavsky

The U.S. filed terrorism-related charges against Tamimi in 2017, but just days later, Jordan’s highest court ruled that Jordanian law prohibited her extradition. Ever since, Jordan has consistently refused to take any action regarding the extradition request.

In September, two senior members of Congress were pressing the Trump administration to act on the subject. Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, and Republican Congressman Doug Collins, the committee’s ranking member, sent a joint letter seeking answers to the Justice Department.

The two lawmakers noted in their letter that despite previous indications that legal action against Tamimi would move forward, no progress had been made. The main obstacle, they wrote, had been the Jordanian government’s refusal to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

This week, the Trump administration’s nominee for ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, told a Senate committee that when it comes to the Tamimi extradition, “all options are on the table.” He further said that Washington “has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure Tamimi’s extradition.”

Wooster added that “[w]e will continue to engage Jordanian officials at all levels not only on this issue, but also on the extradition treaty more broadly. U.S. 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 U.S. interests in Jordan and in the region.” Wooster was specifically asked about using military aid as a form of leverage and did not deny this was one of the options.

Jordan is one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East, but there have been tensions in the relationship in recent months over the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Jordan strongly opposes Israeli annexation, and has been trying to convince the Trump administration to stop it from happening. Jordan also opposed the administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2017.

A large part of Jordan’s population has Palestinian origins, and Israeli security officials are also worried about how annexation could impact stability in that countrt, which has had a peace agreement with Israel since 1994. Jordan’s King Abdullah is supposed to brief senior members of Congress on the annexation issue later this week, in an attempt to increase opposition in Washington to potential annexation moves.

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in aid to Jordan in recent years, and in 2018 the Trump administration committed to provide more than $6 billion in aid over a five year period. Jordan has used much of the aid to handle the millions of refugees that have settled within the country from the wars in Syria and Iraq over the past two decades.

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