by Rafael Medoff/JNS.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Members of Congress are vowing action to circumvent what they say are the U.S. State Department's "excuses" and "stalling" on the prosecution of Palestinian terrorists, who’ve harmed and killed American citizens.
House Oversight chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), said it was "outrageous" that while 140 U.S. citizens have been killed by Palestinian terrorists since the 1960s - 69 of them since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords - none of the suspects have been brought to trial in the U.S. His comments came at a terror victims’ memorial event on Capitol Hill on Sept. 12.
When Congress created the Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVOT) in 2005, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the new agency would "ensure that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks against American citizens remain a high priority for the Department of Justice."
So far, no indictments have been issued against Palestinian terrorists, Rep. DeSantis noted. His inquiries to the State Department have been met with "stalling" and "excuses" about the OVOT lacking the authority to press for prosecution in those cases, he said.
DeSantis intends to introduce legislation to expand the mission of the OVOT so it can help bring about such indictments. Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), who also spoke, said he will support DeSantis's initiative.
Attorney Alyza Lewin, another speaker at the event, described some of the objections she encountered from U.S. officials when she and her father, Nathan Lewin, represented the family of David Boim, an American Jewish teenager murdered by Hamas terrorists in Israel in 1996. One of the killers, Amjad Hinawi, confessed in a Palestinian court, with an American consular official present. Yet Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard told Lewin the U.S. could not indict Hinawi because he was unsure if his confession was voluntary.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration indicted an Iraqi woman, Umm Sayyaf, for assisting ISIS, Lewin noted.
Although it is "unlikely" Iraq will surrender her for prosecution, the U.S. indicted her to "bring some measure of comfort" to the families of Sayyad's victims, government officials told the Washington Post. An additional benefit of the indictment, Lewin noted, is that if Sayyaf is ever released in a prisoner exchange, the FBI would be able to arrest her. "Why aren't those sufficient reasons to indict the murderers of American citizens in Israel?," she asked. "It appears that all victims are not equal."
Sarri Singer of New Jersey, who was seriously injured in a Jerusalem bus bombing in 2003, told the Capitol Hill gathering that while the OVOT "undoubtedly has good intentions," it "has not sought the extradition of even a single terrorist responsible for the murder or injuring of an American citizen in Israel." Moreover, Singer said, many terror victims' families "have received no meaningful, substantive information about the investigations of the attacks at issue and no concrete evidence that any serious investigation has even been attempted." She said the OVOT has kept such a low profile that "there are victims who I am in touch with who still do not even know that the OVOT exists."
The memorial event, which was organized by the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), was held in conjunction with other 9/11 remembrance events around the country, and some of the speakers highlighted what they said is the ideological connection between the 9/11 attackers and Palestinian terrorists. Former Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz told the audience, "Whether Fort Hood or San Bernardino, whether Paris or Nice, whether Orlando or Jerusalem, there's a continuity of radical Islamic terrorists who have declared war--declared Jihad."
EMET president Sarah Stern told JNS.org that "the failure to pursue equal justice for all Americans who are victims of terrorism sends a dangerous message to would-be terrorists around the globe regarding the firmness of our resolve against terrorism."
Also speaking at the event were Yaakov Morgenstern, whose sister, Nancy, was killed in the 9/11 attacks; retired Navy Seal Ken Stethem, whose brother, Robert, was murdered in a Hezbollah airplane hijacking in 1985; and terror victims’ lawyer Richard Heideman.