|Tamimi arriving at Amman airport after being freed in the October 2011
Over in Jordan, a decision by an important court was handed down today and reported this afternoon.
It confirms what we have understood for the past week since the United States Department of Justice unsealed a sealed 2013 complaint charging Ahlam Tamimi, the mastermind of the Sbarro pizzeria massacre and our daughter’s murderer: Jordan has no intention of extraditing Tamimi to the United States.
Jordan’s Court of Cassation rejected on Monday the request made by the US authorities to extradite ex-prisoner Ahlam al-Tamimi. The decision was issued during a court hearing chaired by a panel of adjudicators namely Judge Mohamed Ibrahim, Naji al-Zu’bi, and Yasseen al-Abdalat, among others. A judicial source told Jordan News Agency, PETRA, that the Kingdom and the United States signed an extradition treaty on March 28, 1995, but was not approved by the Jordanian parliament.
The case involves Ahlam al-Tamimi, a Palestinian anti-occupation activist with Jordanian citizenship. In August 2001, she played a major role in the anti-occupation attack on a Sbarro Pizzeria in Occupied Jerusalem. Tamimi was captured by Israel, tried, convicted, and made to serve eight years in prison out of her 16 life sentence before being released in an Israel-Hamas prisoner swap deal. She then became the host of a television show in Jordan. [“Jordan Cassation Court rejects extraditing Tamimi to US“, Palestinian Information Center, March 20, 2017]
How many people made this decision? Was it unanimous? Are they all judges? The answers are not so clear, though we think Jordan uses the word cassation as some European countries do to indicate the highest, most supreme court in the land (and this page on a Jordanian government website seems to support that view). The US Embassy in Amman says that the “Court of Cassation is made up of a maximum of 15 judges. Five judges generally hear each case.” Did that happen here? Who knows?
The government-controlled Petra report [here] mentioned above says the Court of Cassation was considering – and opted to approve – an earlier decision of an entity it calls the Amman Court of Appeal. Which leaves us wondering: this obviously means the lower court blocked Tamimi’s extradition, and the higher court came to the same view. So who brought an appeal against the Amman Court of Appeal’s decision to block Tamimi’s extradition? And why?
Also not so clear is why Jordan waited for 22 years before deciding that it was not going to ratify a treat that it seemed quite keen to consummate back in the days of the Bill Clinton administration.
There’s little reason to spend much time or many words tearing apart some of the self-serving rhetoric of this report. It makes no mention of the crime – multiple murders – for which Tamimi was sentenced by an Israeli military court in 2003. Or that she admitted all the charges and made a full confession. Or that she has boasted of how the murder of Israeli Jewish children caused her absolutely no regrets. For matters like these, a discerning person will not turn to a news source called “Palestinian Information Center.
And when it says she “then became the host” of a TV show, they could have said – but didn’t – that the show is produced by Hamas, that it’s beamed to Arabic-speaking audiences in every part of the world, that it explicitly aims to boost and keep up the spirits of Palestinian Arab prisoners in Israeli jails (and their families) on terrorism and similar charges, and that she stopped being its presenter with no warning in September 2016. It appears (we can’t be certain) that she learned the Americans were on her trail at about that time, and adopted a slightly lower profile.
Today’s decision seems to have been confidently anticipated by Tamimi herself to judge from another report published on the same website on March 17, 2017:
The family of Jordanian journalist Ahlam al-Tamimi has expressed confidence that Jordan’s judiciary would reject the US request to extradite her, saying it fully trusts the justice and integrity of courts in the country. “We are fully confident that the court of cassation will issue a ruling endorsing the verdicts made by the first instance and appeal courts that rejected the [US] extradition request,” the family stated in a press release on Thursday. “The case is still in Jordan’s court of cessation and a definitive decision is yet to be made,” the family said. “The Jordanian monarch, government, and judiciary will remain the guardians of their nationals and will not allow anyone to harm them or undermine their human value,” the family said with confidence. [“Tamimi’s family: We trust the justice of Jordanian courts“, Palestinian Information Center, March 17, 2017]
A much more sober account of what has just happened – based in part on the same Jordanian source as the report we have just mentioned – is published by the venerable Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
Jordan’s highest court has upheld a lower court decision to deny a U.S. request to extradite a woman who was involved in a suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two Americans. In the case of Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, the Court of Cassation upheld the decision on Monday reportedly because an extradition agreement between the two countries signed in 1995 was never ratified by the Jordanian parliament, according to the Petra news agency, citing an unnamed judicial source… Al-Tamimi, who is in her mid-30s and also is known as Khalti and Halati, is accused of being involved in the suicide bombing at a Sbarro pizza restaurant in 2001 that left 122 injured, including four Americans. The charge had been sealed since July 2013. In 2003, she pleaded guilty in an Israeli court to multiple counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison, but was released and returned to Jordan in 2011 as part of the controversial deal to free kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in which Israel exchanged 1,027 prisoners. The Justice Department is seeking her extradition to stand trial. According to the U.S. affidavit, Al-Tamimi traveled with the suicide bomber, led the bomber to a crowded area and provided instructions on how to detonate the weapon. She had agreed to carry out attacks on behalf of Hamas’ military wing, the affidavit said. The FBI has placed her on its Most Wanted Terrorist List. [“Jordan’s highest court upholds decision to deny US request to extradite terrorist“, JTA, March 20, 2017]
We think there is much here that needs to be verified, checked and documented and that, just because a legal source is said to have made a decision in Jordan, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this amounts to a decision similar to a decision by a superior court in another country.
In any event, as people who are deeply interested in the outcome of both the legal process and the extradition process, we will keep looking into ways to somehow encourage an outcome more consistent with the interests of justice.