Ahlam Tamimi’s name will not appear among the list of those whom President Donald Trump pardons during his final hours in office. But the Palestinian arch-terrorist might as well be—because successive U.S. administrations have treated her as if she is immune from prosecution.
Tamimi played a major role in the August 2001 bombing of a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. Fifteen people were killed, including American citizens Malki Roth and Shoshana Greenbaum, and four Americans were among the 122 people who were injured.
Tamimi was captured by the Israelis, tried and convicted, but after serving just eight years in jail, she was released in an Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange. Because she has Jordanian citizenship, she settled there. The “moderate” Jordanian government not only welcomed the terrorist Tamimi but made her the host of a television show. She repeatedly boasted on air about her role in the Sbarro massacre.
The fact that Tamimi was jailed in Israel does not prevent her from being prosecuted in the United States for murdering American citizens. In fact, in July 2013, the U.S. Justice Department indicted her. But the Jordanians refused to extradite her, and the Obama administration did nothing about it. In fact, former President Barack Obama actually kept the indictment secret. It became known only after he left office.
Obama’s refusal to demand that Jordan hand over Tamimi and his decision to suppress the news of her indictment were clearly political decisions. He considered Jordan an ally of the United States and didn’t want to embarrass his friend, King Abdullah.
Refusing to arrest Palestinian killers of Americans has been a politically-motivated policy of four successive U.S. presidents from both parties.
Tamimi’s victims were among the 144 Americans who have been murdered (and 196 wounded) in Palestinian terrorist attacks since the 1960s. When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, it immediately began sheltering these killers, even giving some of them jobs in the P.A.’s police and security forces.
Yet the Clinton administration never brought any of the suspects to America for prosecution. Nor did the administrations of George W. Bush or Obama. The reason was obvious: putting a Palestinian terrorist on trial in America would anger the P.A. And appeasing the P.A. has always been considered a higher priority than bringing Palestinian killers of Americans to justice.
There was a brief glimmer of hope for a change in this policy when the Trump administration, in 2017, revealed that Obama had secretly indicted Tamimi in 2013.
Many of us thought that even if Trump was not going to arrest any of the killers who are being sheltered by the P.A., he would at least secure the extradition of Tamimi from Jordan. And our hopes grew when a few Trump officials hinted that they might use American aid to Jordan as leverage to get Tamimi.
No such luck. There is no evidence that there has been any U.S. pressure on Jordan by the Trump administration. No reduction of aid. Not even a single word of public criticism of King Abdullah for refusing to honor the 1995 U.S.-Jordan extradition treaty.
Even worse, Trump’s Justice Department actually provided Jordan with an excuse to continue refusing to comply. “Jordan’s courts … have ruled that their constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals,” the DoJ claimed.
For some reason, the Justice Department did not explain just what it is that the Jordanian constitution says on the subject. Here it is, in Article 21(1): “Political refugees shall not be extradited on account of their political beliefs or for their defense of liberty.”
In other words, if the Jordanian government is claiming that its constitution forbids extraditing Tamimi, then it has to be claiming that the Sbarro massacre was a “political” crime. How can Americans accept such a position?
Maybe the United States fears that forcing Abdullah to turn her over would further weaken the king’s hold on power, and that would not bode well for America and its allies in the Middle East if Islamists took over. But a wishbone is no substitute for a backbone.
The simple fact is that the United States has an extradition treaty with Jordan. When President Bill Clinton submitted the treaty to Congress on March 28, 1995, his letter stated:
“The Treaty further represents an important step in combatting terrorism by excluding from the scope of the political offense exception serious offenses typically committed by terrorists, e.g., crimes against a Head of State or first family member of either Party, aircraft hijacking, aircraft sabotage, crimes against internationally protected persons, including diplomats, hostage-taking, narcotics trafficking, and other offenses for which the United States and Jordan have an obligation to extradite or submit to prosecution by reason of a multilateral international agreement or treaty.”
Technically, Ahlam al-Tamimi remains on America’s “Most Wanted” list. But that means nothing so long as the actual policy of the U.S. government is that it does not want her. So Tamimi’s name will not show up among Trump’s official pardons. But on the list of unofficial, de facto pardons—of people who, for political reasons, are effectively shielded from prosecution—her name is right up there at the top.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”