September 20, 2020

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Recent developments in getting Jordan to extradite a child killer to the US (Daled Amos)

By Daled Amos

It has been an uphill battle to bring Ahlam Tamimi to justice. Tamimi masterminded the terrorist attack that killed 15 people, including 8 children. Among the dead were 2 American citizens — 15-year-old Malki Roth and 31-year-old Judith Greenbaum, who was pregnant. Another American, Chana Nachenberg, has been in a permanent vegetative state ever since. There were 121 people wounded. After Israel submitted to the Hamas hostage demands in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, Tamimi was one of  1,027 terrorists that were prematurely freed in October 2011. She had been sentenced to 16 life terms and should have spent the rest of her life in prison. Yet now she lives in Jordan as a celebrity, popular among Jordanians. Tamimi was born there and most of her family is now, and was then, based there. The US has pressed the Jordan to hand Tamimi over to face trial for the Americans she murdered in the Sbarro massacre. The outrage over the injustice did not immediately produce results. Neither the media nor government officials were responsive at first. But over the past few years, some in the media and government who have given exposure to the celebrity status the Hamas terrorist enjoys in Jordan and are looking for ways to get Jordan to send Tamimi to the US to stand trial. The foundation for the efforts to bring Tamimi to justice is the extradition treaty between the US and Jordan that in 1995 led to Jordan extraditing Jordanian national Eyad Ismoil to the US for his part in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.


Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrant For Ahlam Tamimi

But it was not until 2017, that there were indications the US government was beginning to consider taking action. That is when the criminal complaint against Tamimi, first issued by a Federal judge in 2013, and for political reasons kept secret, was unsealed:

Read the whole thing.

The US Department of Justice

The US Department of Justice issued a press release, announcing that Ahlam Tamimi was being charged with “conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against US nationals outside the US, resulting in death.”

Ahlam Tamimi Makes The FBI Most Wanted List

The FBI put Tamimi on its “Most Wanted” list that same day. A $5 million reward was added by the relevant agency — a unit of the US State Department, 9 months later.

Tamimi and the legal issue of extradition began to draw attention, as Jordan’s highest court — just days after the unsealing of the charges — declared the extradition of the murderer to be unconstitutional under Jordanian law, and therefore prohibited. There was no official response from the United States for the next two and a half years.

The Legal Angle

In October 2017, the National Security Law Brief — a publication of the Washington, DC-based American University, published a paper by Michelle Munneke entitled, Pressure on Jordan: Refusal to extradite mastermind of deadly 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem contravenes international law and agreements Munneke notes a second treaty between the US and Jordan that establishes mutual assistance in matters of law enforcement.

The article points out and rebuts the claim, made by advocates for Tamimi (but not the Jordanian judges) of double jeopardy. It also addresses the issue of international comity, according to which “the law governing some cases should be that law of which country has a higher interest in the outcome of that case.” Munneke also notes the precedent Jordan itself established in 1995 when it extradited Jordanian national Eyad Ismoil.


The State Department Issues A Reward

In January, the Rewards for Justice Program, which is the U.S. Department of State’s Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program, offered a $5 million reward:

Jordan Reacts

At this point, 2 months later, there was a response from Jordan in the form of an article in Al Ghad, which according to Wikipedia is “the first independent Arabic daily national newspaper published in Jordan.” Translated by Google Translate as Jurists comment on Tamimi’s extradition request: There is no trial for a person who did twice, the article quotes 3 Jordanian lawyers who defend why Jordan has refused to honor its extradition treaty with the US. The article summarizes the arguments in the first paragraph:

Lawyers considered that extraditing the freed prisoner Ahlam Al-Tamimi to America is “not permissible”, citing that “the laws of the world do not allow anyone to be tried twice, and they are also in Jordan,” in addition to the absence of an agreement to exchange criminals between the two countries.

The Munneke article above deals with the Double Jeopardy issue, rebutted in a previous post here. Similarly, that article deals with the claim that there is no treaty.


Congressional Letter To Secretary of State Pompeo

In March 2019, the first of 3 letters from Congressmen appeared. In a bipartisan effort, 20 Congressmen sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo, urging him to extradite Tamimi to the US:

Read the whole thing.

State Department: The Extradition Treaty Is Valid

Later in the year, when the State Department delivered its annual “Country Report on Terrorism” to Congress, there was a change in the section on Jordan from previous years. In the 2017 report, the report merely mentioned in passing that Jordan claimed their constitution does not allow for the extradition of Jordanian nationals:

But the report for the year 2018, submitted in 2019, responded to that point:

Rep. Jerrold Nadler Sends A Letter to Attorney General Barr

In August, in response to a June letter from Rabbis asking him to seek the enforcement of US-Jordanian extradition treaty, Rep. Jerrold Nadler — Chair of the House Judiciary Committee — sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr, asking him for answers:

Nadler and Collins wrote in their joint letter to the Justice Department that “we understand that the government of Jordan has argued that a 1995 extradition treaty between the United States and Jordan is not in effect, and that Jordan’s constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals.” They asked the department to provide “information regarding the current status” of the efforts to “overcome these objections.”

Haaretz Article Draws A Response

The whole issue of bringing Tamimi to justice has generally not been picked up in the media. That changed on November 7, when the English-edition of Haaretz featured an article describing how U.S. Rejects Jordan’s Refusal to Extradite Hamas Terrorist Wanted for Trial. It was a high-profile article, based on an interview with Arnold Roth himself. And it drew a response from the Arab world For example, just 4 days later, Yahya Al-Saud — the Jordanian MP and chairman of Palestine Committee in the Jordanian Parliament — spoke out publicly that the Jordanian government should not extradite Tamimi, adding that “she did not commit a crime, but defended her country.” Also in November, the Jordanian news site featured the Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ayman Hussein Abdullah Al-Safadi who spoke publicly about the Jordan’s refusal to extradite Tamimi:

Jordan 24 – 
Ayman al-Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Affairs, affirmed that several American bodies requested Jordan to extradite her, Jordanian citizen Ahlam Al-Tamimi, noting that Jordan respects and abides by the law, “and the law does not allow this.”

On his blog, This Ongoing War, Arnold Roth thoroughly debunks al-Safadi’s defense of Jordan’s refusal in a post entitled Thank you, Mr Foreign Minister


It has been a busy year so far.

Congress Responds to Jordan’s Refusal to Extradite

Though actually signed in December 2019, Congress’s H.R.1865 – Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, includes a provision for withholding funds from countries that refuse to extradite:

Extradition Sec. 7055. (a) Limitation.—None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to provide assistance (other than funds provided under the headings “International Disaster Assistance”, “Complex Crises Fund”, “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement”, “Migration and Refugee Assistance”, “United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund”, and “Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related Assistance”) for the central government of a country which has notified the Department of State of its refusal to extradite to the United States any individual indicted for a criminal offense for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or for killing a law enforcement officer, as specified in a United States extradition request. [emphasis added] (b) Clarification.—Subsection (a) shall only apply to the central government of a country with which the United States maintains diplomatic relations and with which the United States has an extradition treaty and the government of that country is in violation of the terms and conditions of the treaty. (c) Waiver.—The Secretary of State may waive the restriction in subsection (a) on a case-by-case basis if the Secretary certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that such waiver is important to the national interest of the United States.

Fox News Covers the Story

In another high-profile article, on January 29, Fox News reported Most wanted female terrorist lives in freedom in Jordan despite extradition request for bombing that killed Americans, based on an interview with Arnold Roth, giving more exposure to the search for justice.

More Congressmen Speak Out

Earlier this month, Congressman Greg Steube sent a letter to Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar, demanding Tamimi’s extradition. It is signed by 6 other Congressmen — all Republicans.

The letter does more than urge the government to push for extradition. The Congressmen directly confront Jordan’s refusal to extradite:

The mention that “Jordan had extradited terrorists to the United States multiple times” is a reference to Mohammad Zaki Amawi and Nader Saadeh — dual citizens of both the US and Jordan — whom Jordan turned over to the US in 2006 and 2015 respectively. The letter also discusses H.R.1865, mentioned above, and the possibility of utilizing that option.

More Reactions From Jordan

On May 14, Arnold Roth wrote a post, In Jordan, they’re standing with confessed bomber Tamimi but worried. He reviews 19 different responses in the Arab media to the recent pressure. A number of them repeat the claim that the original extradition treaty is not valid — without addressing the fact that Jordan has in fact extradited terrorists to the US in the past. On May 16, in a post The friends of Jordanian fugitive Ahlam Tamimi, including her lawyers, are speaking up. But not all of them, he notes that despite the claim that Jordan is defending its refusal to extradite based on its adherence to “the law” —

Neither the clever lawyers nor the Islamist spokesperson bother to address what Tamimi happily confesses to doing at Sbarro. They have nothing to say about the people murdered there that day (or daughter Malki among them) or about any of the simple, well-framed questions that Jordan’s ambassador in Washington has not yet mannaged to answer.

He concludes that while in years past Ahlam Tamimi was supremely confident of her position in Jordan, she shows signs of being just a bit uneasy:

Evidently with all the media activity going on in her support, Tamimi is still waiting for the people who count, those in Jordan’s royal palace a short distance from her home, to step up. And as we point out here, she gives the impression of someone who’s running out of patience.

The Times of Israel Article

On May 5, The Times of Israel came out with an article Failed by Israel, Malki Roth’s parents hope US can extradite her gloating killer, written by David Horovitz — the founding editor of Times of Israel.

His article stands out not only for its breadth and attention to detail, but also how Horovitz interviewed not only Arnold Roth and his wife Frimet, but also insiders who offer insight into the roadblocks that the Roth’s have had to deal with and are still dealing with in their quest to bring Tamimi to justice. A Hebrew edition is due out in the coming days, marking the first serious engagement by any part of Israel’s Hebrew-oriented media with the Roth’s battle to see their child’s killer extradited.
There is finally enough exposure and attention paid to Jordan’s protecting a terrorist to generate action from Congress and government bodies. In turn, there is increased coverage even in the Arab media and the Jordanian government itself has felt the need to respond. But there is still a long way to go. The US government clearly has the means to apply pressure on Jordan to comply with its extradition request. However, it has yet to show a readiness to do what is necessary. The question remains as to how dedicated the US government is to seeing justice done for American victims of terrorism.

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