April 26, 2019

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25-Mar-19: State Dept indignation at Germany raises troubling questions

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Yilmaz [Image Source]

In early February, we became aware for the first time of a terrorism case involving a Turk by the name of Adem Yilmaz. You will soon see he’s quite peripheral to our purpose in this post.

Yilmaz was indicted by the United States in 2015 on a variety of charges tied to terrorism activity. This included his alleged role in a human bomb attack in Afghanistan that took the lives of two American soldiers. Eleven other people were injured.

From the Associated Press report, we learned that the case against Yilmaz had been kept under seal – unpublicized, a secret – for some years right up until early February 2019. During those years, he was serving time in a German prison. He was convicted by a court in Dusseldorf in 2010 which

sentenced Yilmaz to 11 years in prison for trying to mount what the German judge reportedly called a “second September 11.” [VOA

The American charges related to Yilmaz being part of a foiled 2007 plot to attack American citizens and facilities in Germany including the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein base. In order to bring him to justice, the American authorities needed to wait till he completed the German prison term..

This Yilmaz story caught our eye.

Why? Because of the parallels with Ahlam Tamimi who, though not held in custody, lived free and unencumbered in Jordan for five and a half years before the US Department of Justice unsealed criminal charges against her that had been issued in 2012.

Those Tamimi charges relate to her role in the devastating bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem in 2001. We described that process in a post ten days ago [“14-Mar-19: Two years after Federal charges are unsealed, Ahlam Tamimi remains free. How is this happening?“]

But what happened after the charges against the Turkish jihadist were unsealed is simply stunning.

Within a few days of being formally asked by the US to extradite Yilmaz who was “still deemed dangerous by German authorities”, the Germans – according to another AP report – decided instead to put him on a plane to his native Turkey.

He was briefly held by anti-terrorism authorities at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. And then he was simply let loose, He’s now free. [source]. How very not surprising.

The reaction from the US, however, is the real point, A February 25, 2019 report quotes Robert Palladino, deputy spokesman for the State Department, telling a press briefing that the US has been in talks with Ankara about Yılmaz:

“Yılmaz is a convicted terrorist; he’s charged with serious crimes by the United States… The United States will never relent in its efforts to bring Yılmaz to justice.”

AP again:

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State John Sullivan immediately called a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who was in Washington to take part in meetings of the coalition fighting against the Islamic State group, to express American displeasure. “We are gravely disappointed by Germany’s decision to deport a dangerous terrorist — Adem Yilmaz — to Turkey, rather than to extradite him to the United States to face justice for his complicity in the murder of two American servicemen,” acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a statement later Wednesday after the two diplomats had met.

And this:

“Adem Yilmaz is responsible for the deaths of U.S. servicemembers,” U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said in a tweet on Thursday. “This failure to extradite him to the United States violates the terms and spirit of our Extradition Treaty.”

Yes, it does. And seeing those words there both uplifts us and depresses us. If only we had heard something even remotely like them in the Tamimi case.

Indeed, several disturbing Tamimi/Jordan-related questions suggested themselves to us as we thought through what had just happened. For instance why has the US evidently accepted Jordan’s abrogation of its treaty obligations with vastly more understanding and grace and far less indignation than in the Germany/Turkey case? 
What wouldn’t we give to hear a robust declaration from the State Department to its Jordanian counterparts calling them out on Jordan’s dereliction of the responsibility to extradite Tamimi to the US; on flouting their treaty obligations; on undermining the rule of law.
Ahlam Tamimi
Then we learned that the Anti-Defamation League in Washington was thinking similar thoughts.
On March 12, 2019, the ADL’S CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt wrote a public letter to the US Attorney General William P. Barr highlighting some of the parallels between the Yilmaz and Tamimi cases.

And, to our rising optimism, asking for an official public response. (The emphases in the quotes that follow are ours.)

He noted that

Ms. Tamimi’s case is almost identical in many respects to the Yilmaz case on which the Justice Department recently spoke out. As you may know, Tamimi is on the list of America’s Most Wanted Terrorists because of her role in a 2001 suicide bombing at a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem by the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Hamas that killed 15 people, including two American civilians.

One of those, as most readers will know, is our daughter Malki.

That attack also injured over 100 others, including four Americans, one of whom remains in a permanent vegetative state since that attack over 17 years ago. Tamimi was indicted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Justice for precisely this reason after Israel reluctantly released her under duress as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Like Yilmaz, Tamimi is a dangerous terrorist who has been enjoying legal impunity in a U.S. ally (Jordan) that since March 2017 has refused to honor its treaty to extradite her to the United States, even though the State Department lists that treaty as still in force on its website. Jordan has previously extradited terrorism suspects to the United States under this treaty. In the meantime, Tamimi has bragged (on camera) about her role in killing Jewish children and makes repeated public appearances as a celebrity and role model, including on Jordanian television, seated beside Jordanian politicians, and at the country’s main trade union office.

We were thrilled by how the ADL letter then set about framing the issue:

This is a vital matter of justice and decency for American victims of terrorism, and for ensuring that America does not apply a double-standard in pursuing justice when the victims are American Jews or other American citizens visiting the Jewish State. 

As the criminal charges the U.S. Department of Justice has filed against Tamimi illustrate, American law clearly grants our government the right – and the obligation – to pursue and prosecute terrorists who murder American citizens abroad, and yet not a single terrorist who has killed an American in Israel or the disputed territories has ever been successfully tried by the U.S. government, and almost none have even been indicted by the U.S. government. 

This case is a welcome exception in that the Department of Justice has taken vigorous steps to bring this terrorist to American justice, but the government of Jordan is thwarting the Department of Justice efforts. (To be best of our knowledge, there is no indication that the State Department has acted as vigorously as the Justice Department to ensure that Jordan complies with America’s extradition request.)

The letter goes on to pose some sharp and welcome questions:

As such, I have several questions for you that go to the heart of whether America is equally committed to ensuring justice for these victims of terrorist acts, including:

First, has the U.S. government sought a review of the Jordanian Court of Cassation’s March 2017 decision to invalidate America’s 1995 extradition treaty with Jordan on narrow, technical grounds, rendering it void from the day it was signed until today, and denying the extradition to the United States of Ahlam al-Tamimi, an admitted mass murderer whose victims include three U.S. citizens?

Second, does the U.S. government agree that this Jordanian decision runs counter to the reality that Jordan has extradited at least three Jordanian citizens to the United States, where they were prosecuted and imprisoned for serious crimes? And that these extraditions related to the deaths of fewer American citizens than the number of killings of U.S. citizens for which Tamimi has been charged?

Third, will the U.S. government clarify to its Jordanian ally its extreme dissatisfaction at the highest levels regarding how this action has resulted in Tamimi evading justice while developing a celebrity persona and a career as a media commentator, as a figure of significant influence in Jordan advocating terrorist attacks and as a person actively encouraging Jordanians and Arabic-speakers outside Jordan (via a television program she broadcast globally from Amman between 2012 and 2016) to provide material support to terrorist organizations?

Fourth, does the U.S. government see the Jordanian court ruling, Jordan’s subsequent refusal to do anything to ratify the extradition treaty to overcome that ruling, and its refusal to extradite Tamimi outside of the framework of that treaty as an unacceptable dereliction of a strategic ally’s responsibility to uphold its legal obligations and the rule of law, as well as a stain on Jordan’s record as a generally staunch partner in the fight against terrorism and extremism?

And fifth, what does the U.S. government intend to do to ensure that Tamimi does not continue to enjoy her legal impunity and public profile in Jordan in the same manner that Adem Yilmaz will likely be able to do as a result of Germany’s refusal to extradite him to the United States, which, as you noted, helped him “deliberately… escape justice”?

As far as we know, the ADL has not yet heard back from the DOJ. We will be watching. And hoping.

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