Wednesday, February 23, 2022

23-Feb-22: Weaponizing Turkish teenage girls: What the Sbarro bomber did next

Tamimi's Istanbul audience in October 2021:
Eager young Islamist women and girls, anxious
to know about killing Jews
She has been called the most wanted woman in the world. Here, for instance. 

But in America's news industry, there is little sign of interest in the life and doings of Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi. This is surprising. And also a real shame.

What she does and how it's perceived in the Arab world would surprise, perhaps even shock, many if they knew.

Tamimi, our daughter's killer, is a Jordanian who lives in a modern apartment in her country's capital, Amman. She has a masters degree in journalism and was the presenter of her own successful TV show for some five years. 

Adoring tributes to her appear on Aljazeera and much of Jordan's mainstream media as well as in major social media including Facebook and Instagram. Her op-eds are published on Arabic-language news sites and the BBC featured her in an absurdly sycophantic news report in 2020. 

The innocents she murdered are never mentioned in any of those articles. 

Shrewd maneuvering by the Hashemite Kingdom's leadership has enabled her to stay safely out of the reach of US government law enforcement efforts. That's at the heart of what we write here.


Tamimi became a fugitive from US law enforcement when the Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint and arrest warrant against her on March 14, 2017. She faces trial in Washington under a US federal law [18 U.S.C. 2332a - Use of weapons of mass destruction] that criminalizes acts of terror involving a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States and - the key provision - whose victims are Americans. 

In a massacre she later called "my operation", Tamimi brought a human bomb - a young Islamist zealot called Al-Masri with an explosives-filled guitar case on his back - from Ramallah to Jerusalem's Sbarro pizzeria, located at one of the city's busiest pedestrian crossings. 

She later recounted how she left him there after imparting instructions on how to proceed. She herself fled on foot to the Old City's Damascus Gate where she boarded a ride-share taxi van back to Ramallah and her night job as a TV newsreader. 

She heard the thunderous explosion from a safe distance. Initial news reports via the van's radio suggested the death toll was lower than she wanted: 

I admit that I was a bit disappointed, because I had hoped for a larger toll. Yet when they said 'three dead,' I said: 'Allah be praised.'  ...The driver was translating [from Hebrew to Arabic] for the passengers... Two minutes later, they said on the radio that the number had increased to five. I wanted to hide my smile, but I just couldn't. Allah be praised, it was great. As the number of dead kept increasing, the passengers were applauding. They didn't even know that I was among them. On the way back [to Ramallah], we passed a Palestinian police checkpoint, and the policemen were laughing. One of them stuck his head in and said: 'Congratulations to us all.' Everybody was happy... [Source]

The toll kept rising and many dozens more were injured. The majority of the dead and maimed were, as Tamimi intended, Jewish children. 

By the time her ride reached Ramallah, it was clear she had produced the largest news story of that day. The key piece, the crowning achievement in her terms, was the murders of 14 "zionists"

Malki, our teenage daughter, was in the center of town that afternoon with a friend, heading for a summer-camp counselors' meeting when they stopped on the way for lunch at a place they both loved. They were standing at the pizzeria's counter when Al-Masri entered the unguarded shop and walked up behind them. 

And then exploded.

We spent twelve nightmarish hours desperately searching for her. Eventually, with the help of a social worker, our two oldest sons located their sister's lifeless body in the small hours of the morning in a cold storage drawer at the Abu Kabir pathology center in Jaffa. Malki was the fifteenth victim. 

Of the many killed, two were American nationals: Malki, 15; and Judith Lillian Greenbaum (known to her family and friends as Shoshana), 31, a tourist and pregnant with her first child. A sixteenth victim, also a US citizen like Malki and Shoshana, remains unconscious in a Tel Aviv long-term care center today.


Tamimi was born in 1980, the daughter of a career soldier in Jordan's military. She was raised and educated in Jordan and then, at 21 and a student at the Palestinian Arab Birzeit University near Ramallah, she became the first female admitted to the ranks of the Hamas terrorist forces. 

Once in, she was assigned to blow up a central Jerusalem supermarket with an exploding beer can. She failed and demanded a second mission. That's how some ten days later she spearheaded the Sbarro savagery that propelled her to fame. 

In 2001, and in the wake of the Sbarro devastation, Tamimi was arrested, tried and convicted by an Israeli military court on the basis of her full confession. A panel of three judges sentenced her in 2003 to sixteen terms of life imprisonment with an unusual recommendation that she never be released - no parole, no political deals, no swaps. 

No one paid attention and she was stunningly freed eight years later in October 2011 as part of an extortionate deal, ill-judged and catastrophic in our view, made by Israel with globally-outlawed terrorists of Hamas, the organization whom Tamimi was serving.

She was 31 when she walked out of her Israeli prison cell and returned triumphantly to Jordan and months of wide jubilation and public appearances. She was young enough to marry a few months later and to dramatically expand her career. 


Early in 2012, from Jordan, she began presenting her own television program called "Breezes of the Free" (in Arabic “نسيم الأحرار”). The hour long celebration of terror and terrorists went to air weekly via the Hamas satellite network to a vast and ardent Arabic-speaking audience spread all over the world. 

Tamimi on the set of her TV show

Anyone aware of how tightly the King Abdullah governments ruling Jordan since 1999 manage the country's media will realize a show like Tamimi's could never happen unless that was what the king and his advisers wanted.

The context is important. Jordan is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021, an annual study of worldwide political rights and civil liberties compiled by Freedom House. And the trend has grown stronger: a year earlier, Jordan was rated Partly Free as it was in 20192018 and 2017

Plainly, Jordan is not one of those places where subversive voices can sneak under the regime's radar. If a message is getting transmitted, that reflects the Royal Hashemite Court's will.


In 2013, a year after Tamimi's horror show began going to air, the US filed terror charges against her in Washington. 

And promptly sealed them without any pubic announcement, keeping them absolutely secret. 

We learned off the record and long after the fact that this was supposed to allow high-level discussions to take place with Jordan about extraditing her into the hands of the FBI as required under the 1995 Jordan/US Extradition Treaty. Jordan had extradited fugitive Jordanians to the US multiple times since the treaty took effect. It similar and active treaties with numerous other states. 

But if indeed there were talks, they were unproductive. And on March 14, 2017, nearly four years after a federal judge had signed the charges, senior officials of the Department of Justice in Washington finally unsealed and publicized them [here]. 

Because of our involvement, the DOJ people did us the courtesy of an in-person briefing some hours ahead of the public announcement. Even so, we were unprepared for the distressing frustration that followed. 

The day those US federal charges were made public in 2017, the FBI added Tamimi to its Most Wanted Terrorists List. It's a small and exclusive list, currently made up of just 25 individuals, only two of them females. Some time later, the State Department's Rewards for Justice program posted a $5M reward for relevant information about Tamimi - whose home address and daily whereabouts were and are known to the media, the Jordanian authorities and the US government.

But just six days after the unsealing of the federal charges, Jordan's Court of Cassation, the kingdom's highest judicial body, ruled, as part of proceedings in which Tamimi was the centerpiece, that the 1995 treaty had a fatal flaw. Incredibly, they decided that in Tamimi's case, the US demand for extradition was unenforceable against Jordan. 

The details of the flaw are technical and irritating. It's beyond dispute that the Jordanian legislature could have easily fixed the problem then, and still can now. 

In a soft, almost inaudible voice, the US rejects the Jordanian position that the flaw and the invalidity let Jordan off the hook and leave Tamimi free to go about her life. The Jordan/US pact continues to be listed in Treaties in Force, an authoritative online State Department publication that underpins the American view. 

Throughout the five years since Jordan repudiated the treaty, no American official has addressed the matter publicly. Our repeated requests to a stream of US politicians and officials to tell the Jordanians publicly and out loud that harboring Tamimi disgraces them, fall on deaf ears. No such statement has been made by any of them

Instead, as Fox News reported during another of the many official visits by Abdullah to Washington, this one in July 2021, the State Department issues what can reasonably be called mantras. Vague assertions of fact blended with fond wishes and zero action. Fox showed this slide when it interviewed us live last summer:

In essence it's the same message the Trump administration issued. And it means as little today as it did then. 

For all practical purposes, the Sbarro victims have been swept under the carpet. 


Now we jump to October 2021. 

In the intervening years, Tamimi has appeared multiple times on Aljazeera's multiple media, on BBC Arabic, on lesser known Arabic news channels, on Jordan's commercial RoyaTV channel and on numerous additional platforms where she has been interviewed, showcased and glorified as an icon. 

Her op-eds have appeared in the pages of multiple Arabic newspapers and news websites as well as on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and less-known Arabic-only social media sites. Arabic-language criticism of anything she has said, written or done is published nowhere.

Our occasional interactions with US government officials have been frustrating, sporadic, largely unproductive from our point of view and hard to arrange. Our experience with the US Embassy in Israel throughout the Trump years exemplifies the approach: as bereaved parents of a murdered US national expecting to be guided and assisted, we are mostly ignored. Not in a polite way and certainly not because we are rude. Persistent and raising an irksome issue, certainly. But never rude and not hostile.

By video, Tamimi speaks to the young Islamist
women in Istanbul - October 2021
Among the crumbs of information that we have gotten in these sometimes deplorable interactions is that the US government believes Jordan - because Jordan says so - has Tamimi under control. She's not inciting any more, we're assured. Her toxic influence has been neutralized. The problems are behind us.

From what we see, such claims are untrue.

In October 2021, Tamimi spoke in Arabic via video conference to an Islamist event in Istanbul, Turkey, held under the banner of الملتقى العلمي الدولي للشباب [“Gathering4youth”]. We spotted a video clip of the seminar that was uploaded to YouTube and promptly passed it along, with selected Arabic-to-English text translation, to senior US officials. If they are doing something with it, they're not telling us.

We asked a professional translator to review Tamimi's presentation. Here's the part we think captures the essence of her message:

...Allah let me have a membership in the ‘Izz ad-Deen al-Qassam battalions and [allowed me to] participate in two jihad operations that produced, by the Lord’s virtue, the deaths of fifteen zionists with 122 zionists wounded in two Jihad operations. We ask Allah to accept this. 

These two jihad operations are a crown on my head. By Allah’s virtue, I entered history by doing the finest of deeds, the finest operations, in the finest of ways, which are the ways of jihad. 

Praise Allah, He has prescribed me this fate. And when I met the "suicide bomber" [the Arabic expression translates literally into "the martyrdom-seeker"] ‘Izz ad-Deen Al-Masri, this was not a matter of such ease to stand next to a bomber. There are many lessons I learned. Many lessons which ‘Izz ad-Deen Al-Masri taught me without talking, [just by] being a road companion from Ramallah to Jerusalem, to the center of the [Jerusalem commercial] center where the Zionist entity is found, at the Jaffa and King George Avenue [corner]. This drive which lasted about an hour, from Ramallah to Jerusalem, or 90 minutes, [during] much of it I was learning from suicide bombers.

What does it mean to be a suicide bomber? It means that your spirit, your senses, your feelings, all of you, are pending against the Lord. Which is a difficult matter for us in this life to work out. But Hamas’s suicide bomber unit was able to spiritually train these suicide bombers.

What does it mean to sit for years [with] your sole mission to prepare your soul with effort, to train your soul? How do I become a spiritual character, how do I make my soul pending against Allah? And uproot all other attachments to this world. Only then shall I be worthy of the suicide bombers unit, and put my spirit forward in Allah’s path.

This is what ‘Izz ad-Deen Al-Masri taught me.

However until now I have not reached even half a degree of the character of ‘Izz ad-Deen Al-Masri and all suicide bombers who decided to put their souls forward in Allah’s path.”

It's hard to predict how much lethal damage is done when an eager and evidently impressionable audience of Islamist girls and young women, some of them about the age Tamimi was when she had her great moment at Sbarro, or younger, are exposed to a charismatic celebrity-jihad preacher with copious amounts of blood on her hands. 

The potential is horrific. Why has this not made headlines?  


From watching Ahlam Tamimi preach, we know political issues play almost no part in her messaging: no occupied territories, no green lines, no give-us-a-state. Theology seems to interest her more.

As she has said elsewhere, her brief and only conversation with ‘Izz ad-Deen Al-Masri took place as they walked along central Jerusalem's Jaffa Road on their way to the Sbarro corner. She says he asked her a question:

Are there religious Jews in the place where we are going to conduct the attack?


That was his question and I said yes. There are religious Jews there and also other people. I had been to the area before. I knew there was a Jewish religious school near there. He asked how many religious Jews would be there. 


Why did he ask about religious Jews?


Because the base of the conflict between the Israelis [she does not use the Arabic word for Jews] and the Palestinians is a religious struggle. When we came to the place, he looked at my eyes and I told him: There is no god other than the mighty Allah. He went on his way and I went on my way... My emotions and thoughts focused only on [Al-Masri]  and his strong personality and his vision and his action. I could only think about him and about his great personality and I didn't think about anything else.


Do you feel sorry?


No, absolutely not. Why? For what?

In fighting for justice, there has been no alternative for us but to watch the cold barbarism of our gentle daughter's hard-faced murderer. As difficult as this is, we do it so we can urge decision-makers to understand that what chills people like us actually inspires and incites people in that other world across the river. 

[For some additional context about Tamimi's views on the Jews, see "08-Oct-17: Why kill religious Jewish children? Because, says Hamas celebrity-jihadist, this is a religious struggle" on our blog.]


No one in power says it but the American prosecution of Tamimi is stuck. The party doing the obstructing is a needy and highly dependent ally of the United States. It's the world's second-largest recipient of annual US foreign aid amounting to billions of US taxpayer dollars each year. 

Jordan is also bound by treaty to hand fugitives over to the FBI on request. It has in fact done that repeatedly in the other fugitive Jordanian cases that came before Tamimi. 

The US is bizarrely quiet about Jordan's egregious breach of the solemn 27 year-old legal obligation. This plays into the hands of dark forces in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world. They propagate the offensive notion that when done in the name of Palestinian Arab "resistance", terrorism isn't terror at all. It's bravery, heroism, religious devotion and a reflection, as Tamimi puts it, of a great personality.

Let's also factor in the reality that Jordan, as documented by the Anti Defamation League, has sky-high levels of antisemitism. We have argued ["27-Aug-21: Peace, terror and Jordan's under-reported attachment to anti-Jewish bigotry"] that the kingdom's comprehensive failure to address this has consequences. Either Jordan wants peace and understands that this comes with a significant commitment to change. Or it wants to allow hatred and violent extremism to go on. Via its rhetoric, its actions and its inaction, and especially by harboring the monster who bombed Sbarro and allowing the unconscionable benefits she has gained from Jordan' tolerance of her lethal bigotry, Jordan signals that it wants both. 

And that cannot be.

Malki HY"D
We don't understand the US lawmakers, diplomats and officials who sweep justice in the Tamimi case under the rug. 

We don't understand the State Department with its self-incriminating mantras about how they're trying so hard for years to get her out of the clutches of the Jordanian juggernaut. 

We don't understand Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the divide. We don't know how, given their stated principles, they can fail to demand that this Jordanian woman be immediately brought to justice in Washington.

We don't understand America's organized Jewish leadership. Their failure, an especially painful one, to stand with us on an issue that ought to be a priority, an opportunity to speak truth to power (and let's be clear that the power in this challenge is not Jordan), raises concerns they ignore.

We're ready to explain this to them. But not here.

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