OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Betrayal, lies, politics and grief

The world’s refusal to bring my child’s killer to justice.

Following a March 20, 2017 decision by an Amman court to reject a U.S. request for her extradition, Palestinian-Jordanian Hamas terrorist Ahlam Tamimi gave an interview on March 22, 2017 to the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece Al-Sabil. Credit: MEMRI.
Following a March 20, 2017 decision by an Amman court to reject a U.S. request for her extradition, Palestinian-Jordanian Hamas terrorist Ahlam Tamimi gave an interview on March 22, 2017 to the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece Al-Sabil. Credit: MEMRI.
Arnold Roth
Arnold Roth
Arnold Roth brought his family to Jerusalem from Australia 36 years ago. Retired now from a career as a lawyer and manager in Israel’s emerging technology industries, he and his wife Frimet established the Malki Foundation in their murdered daughter’s memory in 2001.

Seven years have passed since criminal charges were brought in Washington, D.C. against the woman who murdered my sunny, lovely, empathetic 15-year-old daughter Malki. The anniversary of the charges being made public is today, March 14.

As milestones go, this one is dark. The fugitive killer admits to her central role in the massacre for which she is being prosecuted. Though she brags about her atrocity, she lives the life of a celebrity and an inspiration to others. Yet her ongoing freedom gets negligible attention in the news industry and public discourse—even in the U.S. To the extent that the Arab media report on her, it is overwhelmingly favorable and sympathetic.

The dry details of Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi’s long-thwarted prosecution are easy to find. The mugshots, biographical details and charges are accessible via three sites: The FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, the 2017 Department of Justice announcement of the previously secret charges and the State Department’s 2018 post of a $5 million reward that is still unclaimed two decades after it first went public.

What’s behind Tamimi’s freedom is harder to ascertain. Those who know don’t talk openly and those with a stake in her ongoing freedom are too often untruthful about it. Understanding this and conjecturing why it is the case is at the heart of the nightmare my wife and I endure years after our beautiful child’s life was extinguished.

Tamimi was recruited by Hamas in 2001. The first female to become one of its jihadists, she was given the mission of bombing one of Jerusalem’s few large department stores.

Hamashbir Lazarchan, located on busy King George Street, was an easy hit. On July 30, 2001, she entered its basement supermarket with an explosives-filled beer can. No security people stood at the doors in those innocent days. Tamimi placed the bomb on a shelf among other beverage containers and strolled out.

Still flush with excitement in a 2012 interview on an Arab TV station, she recounted what resulted: “The supermarket completely exploded. … The Israelis said that nobody had been killed or wounded. … This was the beginning of the intifada, and it was normal for them to conceal the number of casualties in order to avoid panic among the Zionists” (transcript).

A calmer version from the standpoint of the bombmaker, a Kuwaiti kinsman of Tamimi by the name of Abdallah Barghouti, stated, “The operation was not intended to cause deaths or injuries but was intended to test the occupation’s security precautions” (source).

Both accounts are untrue. No one was injured by the bomb, though the aim was to cause a bloodbath. When it failed, Tamimi badgered her Hamas handlers to immediately give her a better bomb for a second shot at jihadi fame.

That came just a week later on Aug. 9, 2001. An exploding guitar case fabricated by Barghouti was handed to Tamimi by a Hamas handler who paired her up with a religious zealot willing to sling it across his shoulder and carry it inside the target she had selected: central Jerusalem’s bustling Sbarro pizzeria.

From Ramallah, she accompanied the suicidal human bomb by bus and cab to Jerusalem. Then on foot through its downtown streets where, unknown to Tamimi or the young man by her side, the Israel Police had been put on alert following an intelligence tip that a terrorist attack was about to take place. Tragically, the general public was never told.

The massive explosion gutted Sbarro at two o’clock on a hot school vacation afternoon, erasing 16 lives and injuring 130 other innocents. Three Americans were murdered, one of them Malki.

Tamimi was arrested weeks later. Tried in Jerusalem, she was convicted and sentenced to 16 terms of life imprisonment. The three-judge panel, horrified by the smiling accused who admitted all the charges against her, recommended from the bench to the Israeli authorities that Tamimi should never be set free—not in any political deal, not on bail, not for any reason.

Their advice was ignored.

Tamimi walked free in a 2011 deal between Hamas and Israel for the release of a young IDF soldier held hostage for five years. Israel paid heavily, conditionally commuting the sentences of 1,027 convicted Palestinian Arab and other Arab terrorists and setting them loose. More than half had blood on their hands.

Tamimi was bused to Cairo on the day of the release. Following a high-profile media event there in which Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal blessed her arrival, she left on a VIP flight to Jordan and a tumultuous welcome at its main airport and instant, noisy stardom. In the years that followed, she hosted her own made-in-Amman terror-friendly Hamas show that was beamed globally via satellite TV. She settled into a jihad-centric talk circuit that got her in front of television cameras, on public event panels and before live audiences throughout the Middle East, as well as opinion pieces in influential Arabic mainstream and social media outlets. Tamimi’s position as one of Islamist terror’s most influential icons is beyond doubt.

Meanwhile, starting in 2012, just weeks after she left her Israeli cell, Tamimi became a person of interest to the U.S. Department of Justice. A core factor was that two of her victims were U.S. citizens, one of them Malki. (A third, who suffered profound injuries in the atrocity, died in May 2023, having never regained consciousness.)

Those charges were signed off by a U.S. federal judge in July 2013. But they became public only much later on March 14, 2017 via a Department of Justice announcement. As this was happening, we were quietly told that Jordan, which is obligated by a 1995 treaty with the Clinton administration to extradite Tamimi, had flatly refused to comply. “You’re now in the court of public opinion,” one of the officials told me. “Good luck.”

The court of public opinion doesn’t have a single address but many. As Malki’s parents, we have tried to reach all of them. We have gone to Congress, assailed the mainstream Western media, written privately to the Biden administration and to the two that came before it, turned to a herd of America’s Jewish organizational insiders, sought help from the government of Israel, and engaged with numerous respected commentators and analysts with expertise in the field.

One or two (literally) have said getting Tamimi prosecuted is a bad idea if it offends Jordan. The vast majority either fail to respond or acrobatically avoid dealing directly with the issue even as they sit in the room with my wife and me. The result is mostly the same: We come away frustrated and dismayed by the miles-wide gap between the values they profess and their inaction or actual obstruction.

We have written or spoken about some of those beating-our-head-against-the-wall encounters, but not all. I present a small sample:

Jordan signed an extradition treaty with the U.S. in 1995 and complied with it for years. There’s no question that it remains valid and enforceable. But a Jordanian court, suspiciously ruling a week after the charges against Tamimi were unsealed in Washington seven years ago, said the treaty needed to be ratified by the parliament but never was and thus was invalid.

No reporter whom I have contacted has ever pressed the Jordanians about the patent falseness of this claim. If it’s true, Jordan created the problem and Jordan can fix it by simply ratifying the treaty tomorrow morning. But as we discovered by suing the State Department in 2021 under the Freedom of Information Act, King Hussein—the father of Jordan’s present King Abdullah—personally ratified the treaty and swore not to allow its violation. That should have ended the controversy but, of course, it hasn’t.

Years of appeals to senior American Jewish leaders have been brushed off. But two significant breakthroughs came this past year: The American Jewish Committee wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland in July 2023 and the Conference of Presidents wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in January 2024. Each asked the U.S. to press Jordan harder so Tamimi is handed over for trial in Washington. Both requests remain unanswered.

My wife Frimet is a registered voter in Queens, New York, where she lived for 20-some years. Our requests to the lawmakers who represent her to take up the Tamimi issue with the State Department have gone unanswered or gone nowhere. Both parties in Congress have shown the same unwillingness to tackle the issue.

All our encounters with Washington’s ambassadors to Israel have been, putting it respectfully, a disappointment.

That’s also true of the things we have done to get reactions from the top of the pyramid. I have avoided publicizing this but I feel justified in sharing how our polite, cogent personal appeals to various presidents, secretaries of state and current National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have been brushed aside as if the Tamimi case were not worth addressing.

Out of the blue, months after we decided to stop wasting further time on them, a letter dated Oct. 25, 2022 arrived from Victoria Nuland, currently under-secretary of state for political affairs and deputy secretary of state until she retires in the coming weeks.

She opened with a startling statement: “On behalf of the President, Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan I want to reiterate…” She then listed things no government figure has until now: Tamimi must be held accountable; the U.S. is fully committed to getting her into a U.S. court; it’s pursuing “all viable options” with Jordan; and getting justice for Malki and others “is a foremost priority for the United States.”

The worst part of Nuland’s letter was its final sentence: “We will stay in contact with you regarding our ongoing efforts to ensure Tamimi is held accountable for her despicable crimes.” She hasn’t stayed in contact at all.

On one level, the pain of our bitter experience stems from the failures of U.S. justice, Congress and the executive branch, reinforced by a depressing propensity for clear-cut issues to fall victim to politics both domestic and global. On another level, especially painful for us, there are the lessons about American Jewish life and its leadership’s failure to lead. On yet another level, ours is simply a human story of parents fighting so that the killer of our teenage daughter is brought in chains to a U.S. court to face prosecution. 

The U.S. and the world want to see the Israel-Hamas war wrapped up. In some ways, there’s a mood of “whatever it takes” in the air, and therefore a realistic prospect that Israel will free Palestinian Arab terrorists, including senior Hamas figures. (We’re totally opposed.) Some of them might go to Jordan.

What would it mean if the incomprehensibly generous grant of impunity that Jordan, one of the world’s most antisemitic entities, has enjoyed while illicitly holding tight to Tamimi were extended to cloak those terrorists? The Tamimi case is a red light for what may lie ahead.

Our battle for justice and against the terrorists has been personal from the outset; not because it’s important for us alone (it’s more important than that) but because it’s driven by pain and grief. Those feelings grew even more intense a few weeks ago when our son-in-law, the beloved husband of one of Malki’s sisters and adored father of two of our toddler granddaughters, was killed fighting Hamas in Gaza.

It’s time to change how America views the war against the terrorists and those who stand with them. Everything dear to us depends on getting that right.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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