The American terror victims of the 2001 suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem have never gotten the justice they deserve. U.S. law authorizes the prosecution and punishment of a terrorist who murders Americans abroad. Yet the mastermind of the Sbarro bombing, Ahlam Tamimi, lives openly and freely in Jordan, and is treated like a celebrity. Recently, this gross miscarriage of justice got even more grotesque. Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, dropped an international warrant for Tamimi’s arrest and removed her from its “Most Wanted” list.
Interpol’s actions make a mockery of its commitment to work with the United States and its 193 other member countries “to make the world a safer place.” The actions are also the latest affront to the American terror victims and their families, who for all these years have had to live with the fact that an unremorseful terrorist has not been punished for her crimes under U.S. law.
Tamimi’s life of freedom and celebrity in her home country of Jordan is hard to stomach, considering the depravity of her conduct. When she conspired with the terrorist group Hamas to carry out the bombing, Tamimi carefully chose the pizzeria as the target and the lunch hour because of the large number of Jews, especially families, who patronized it. The bomb that was used was hidden in a guitar case, surrounded by nails, to inflict maximum pain and damage to its victims.
That it did. Fifteen people were killed, including seven children, and approximately 130 were wounded. The victims included six Americans. Fifteen-year-old Malki Roth and Judith Hayman Greenbaum, who was pregnant with her first child, were killed. The Americans wounded were 21-year-old David Danzig, 25-year-old Matthew P. Gordon, 2-year-old Sara Shifra Nachenberg and Joanne (Chana) Nachenberg, who has been in a vegetative state ever since.
Tamimi has never expressed regret for the horrific loss and pain she caused. After she was released from an Israeli prison as part of a prisoner exchange with Hamas, she told an interviewer that she had given no thought to the families and children in the restaurant when the bomb exploded. Learning that the number of casualties was actually greater than she’d presumed brought a smile to her face.
This monster was returned to Jordan after her release from prison, where she was treated like a hero. For years, Tamimi hosted a television show on Hamas-affiliated TV that was broadcast throughout the Arabic-speaking world. She has traveled widely to many Arab countries, bragging about the role she played in the slaughter.
The U.S. government finally indicted Tamimi in 2013 and requested that Jordan extradite her, under a 1995 extradition treaty between the United States and Jordan, so that she could be tried for her crimes under U.S. law. In 2017, the Justice Department added Tamimi to the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list, offering a $5 million reward for information leading to her arrest or conviction.
Days later, Jordan’s highest court decided that the U.S-Jordan extradition treaty was invalid, purportedly because the Jordanian parliament had not approved it. The decision made no sense since the treaty was enforceable back in 1995, leading to the extradition of another terrorist who had participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The United States considers its extradition treaty with Jordan as valid.
Many advocates for the terror victims and their families have long been calling on Jordan to comply with the extradition treaty, including the Zionist Organization of America. In March 2017, the ZOA wrote to the leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, urging that U.S. aid to Jordan be cut until Jordan extradited Tamimi and fully cooperated with U.S. efforts to hold her accountable for crimes against Americans. Our letters documented that in addition to rebuffing this particular extradition request from the United States, Jordan has an unacceptable history of tolerating terrorists who murder Jews. In April 2017, the ZOA published an open letter to Jordan’s King Abdullah, imploring him to exercise his power by circumventing the Jordanian court’s decision and extraditing Tamimi.
In 2019, Congress passed a law that requires Jordan to extradite Tamimi or risk losing the approximately $1.7 billion of American aid. But so far, Jordan has continued not to cooperate.
There are concerns that extraditing Tamimi—a star in Jordan and throughout the Arab world—could create instability in the Jordanian government, which both Israel and the United States seek to avoid. But it’s hard to fathom that this one extradition would topple the Jordanian government when the country’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel didn’t do so; in fact, it actually helped the monarchy prosper.
There are other concerns that make Tamimi’s extradition an imperative. U.S. tolerance of Jordan’s refusal to extradite her sends a horrible message to the Jordanian people—that Jordanian terrorists who massacre innocent Americans can and will get away with it. It also sends an unacceptable and unforgivable message to the American terror victims and their families, and to all Americans: that the United States will not do everything possible to secure justice for its citizens when they or their family members are murdered by terrorists overseas. If the U.S. indictment of Tamimi and the request to extradite her are to have any meaning, then they must be executed.
President Joe Biden must ensure that Jordan extradites this monster so that she can stand trial for violating U.S. law and pay the price for her brutal crimes. In addition, the president must demand that Interpol restore the arrest warrant for Tamimi or issue a new one, and return this murderer to its most-wanted list. Tamimi’s innocent victims and their grieving families deserve nothing less.
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq. is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.
This op-ed was originally published in JNS and can be found here.