Friday, July 22, 2022

22-Jul-22: The loneliest battle of my life

An edited version of the article that follows, written in English by Frimet Roth, was published in Hebrew in the pages of Haaretz and on its Hebrew website last week [here]. The title, translated into English: "The woman responsible for my daughter's murder remains free."

My husband Arnold and I never expected to be involved in political activities of any kind, and certainly not at this stage of our lives. 

We have raised children who are now raising their own children. By our own standards we have lived constructive lives. And we have kept away from politics and politicians the whole time.

Now, more than thirty years after we settled in Jerusalem as olim from Australia and the United States, we find ourselves in one of the loneliest battles it’s possible to imagine.

There is a woman who lives about an hour from here, a woman we have never met. We have spent years trying to get her imprisoned for the rest of her life.

On March 14, 2017, the Department of Justice in Washington charged Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi with “conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against US nationals outside the US, resulting in death.

Her weapon of mass destruction was a human: a man with an explosives-and-shrapnel-filled guitar-case on his back. He detonated while standing at the counter of the crowded Sbarro pizzeria in the center of Jerusalem on August 9. 2001. The powerful blast decapitated him and destroyed the bustling premises and everything inside. Tamimi later called the massacre “my operation” in one of her many triumphant social posts.

Intending to kill as many children as possible, she came to Jerusalem on August 9, 2001, age 21 and dressed in clothes that made her look Israeli instead of the Islamist zealot that she really was. She had already chosen the pizzeria as her target and brought the bomb right up to its door. Instructing her young male companion on when and how to explode, she ran from the scene. By the time he did what she told him, she had already escaped to safety.

A few hours later, she was the reader of the evening news at a Palestinian TV station in Ramallah called Al-Istiqlal. We weren’t watching.

* * *

We buried our smiley, talented, much-loved Malki, 15, the next afternoon.

Tamimi descended into Israel’s military courts system and then prison in the weeks and years that followed. No one from the government ever contacted us; we knew only what the Israeli public knew. Our sources were the same as everyone else’s.

Then something incomprehensible happened. 

In October 2011, Netanyahu announced that he had done a deal to get back Gilad Shalit, a soldier held for ransom by Hamas. The price: freedom for 1,027 convicted terrorists, most of them killers. We turned to the media to express the incomprehensibility of what was being done and our rejection of the idea that the Sbarro bomber should ever be released under any conditions.

No one from the government of Israel informed us or asked us what we think – and Tamimi’s sixteen terms of life imprisonment ended just like that. Eight years after she was sentenced, the monster walked free.

* * *

Frimet was interviewed by Haaretz on the day
the Shalit Deal was consummated
The awful reality turned unbearable just a couple of months after Tamimi settled back in Jordan where she was born and educated: she was given her own shiny new weekly television show, beamed by satellite every Friday night into all parts of the Arabic speaking world via the Al-Quds TV channel operated by Hamas.

"Naseem Al Ahrar" (translation: “Breezes of the Free”), encouraged its audience to admire and support terror and those who do it. It became a hit that ran for five years.

The week it started to appear on television, my husband went to Washington. I couldn’t travel but I went with him in the form of a video clip we recorded at our home the night he traveled. Together the two of us tried to persuade a room full of senior Department of Justice and FBI officials that criminal charges should be brought against the Sbarro mastermind. No case of Palestinian Arab terror leading to the murder of Americans in Israel had ever been prosecuted by the US government before, though a law enabling this had been on the books for years. The key factor was that Malki had dual American and Israeli citizenship.


That Washington DC chapter happened in February 2012. We felt it went well, but no one told us that a federal judge signed the criminal complaint on July 15, 2013. We didn’t know US diplomats were negotiating with Jordan to extradite her. We were given no sign that the charges even existed.

We learned about them in a March 14, 2017 private meeting with DOJ representatives in Jerusalem. They came here to tell us. Tamimi became an FBI Most Wanted terrorist a few hours later, only the second woman ever to be put on that list. An arrest order and extradition request were delivered to the Hashemite Kingdom at about the same hour that we met with the Americans.

We imagined a road ahead leading to trial and imprisonment. In less than a week, we learned how naïve we were.


The five years that followed have been hard. The DOJ people making the Tamimi announcement in Washington seemed righteous and determined. But they very soon became unreachable, at least to us.

Jordan’s highest court ruled later that same week that the 1995 Clinton/King Hussein Extradition Treaty was invalid. The reasons were absurdly technical and as we have since learned, don’t hold water. We learned this by suing the US State Department two years ago. If we had any doubt before, we now knew that the Jordanian government was concealing the truth in order to keep this immensely popular figure safe from the Americans.

In the years since March 2017, the US has stated formally — but very quietly — that the treaty actually is valid. But they have never made a single public call telling Jordan to hand her over to US law enforcement. Meanwhile Jordan has become one of the three largest recipients of massive US foreign aid. Tamimi lives free in Amman, never in hiding for even a day.

It’s not only Washington that’s lost its voice. America’s major Jewish organizations have almost entirely failed to urge the US to enforce its own criminal code or its own treaty to bring Tamimi to justice.

Through writing, blogging, speaking via video conference wherever we are invited, we keep the campaign alive. We wrote to President Biden last Sunday asking him in a private letter to meet with us, to talk with us about how it can be that America’s most wanted female fugitive remains free to keep inciting other people, especially children and teenagers, to do more terror. The White House has not responded but told Associated Press on Monday that they have no intention of responding to the Roths’ letter.

In Israel’s power circles, our voices get close to zero attention, and not for lack of trying. Israel has done nothing to help bring Tamimi to American justice.

We understand the political calculus: terror bad, King Abdullah good, mustn’t undermine him. But if you see justice as a supreme value, it’s hard not to feel betrayed.


Four weeks from now, we will mark our precious Malki’s 21st yahrzeit, the anniversary of her murder. With time, it strangely becomes ever more painful to think about her. Perhaps this is because the list of milestones she has missed grows with each day for me.

I imagine her as a mother and wife. A musician perhaps - she played the classical flute exceptionally well already at the age of fifteen. As an occupational therapist – the field she told me she hoped to study.

I imagine conversations where I share personal experiences with her. She was not only my oldest daughter but a friend as well.

Kindness, empathy and generosity were second nature to her - towards her parents, her six siblings, her many friends. She even extended those traits to her youngest sibling, Haya, who was and remains profoundly disabled: blind, unable to speak, to stand, to sit, to respond in any way.

But Malki lavished love and attention on her and reached out as well to other children with disabilities in our neighborhood, at her school, in summer camps.

At school, she didn't excel but did passably well. Studying for exams only stole time from her other activities - artwork, heart-to-heart conversations at the youth group where she was an enthusiastic madricha.

I long to do more for her. But all that is left for me is to honor her by bringing her murderer to justice. With every letter my husband and I write to powerful and influential people, with every phone call we make, with every interview we give to the media, I feel that I am giving a gift to our Malki.

POSTSCRIPT: More than 20,000 justice-minded people from all parts of the world have already answered our request to sign our petition. It urges the Secretary of State in Washington to do what should have been in 2013 when a federal judge signed a criminal indictment against Tamimi: tell Jordan to hand her over to the still-waiting US law enforcement officials so she can be tried in a court of justice under US law as the Jordan/US extradition treaty explicitly requires. To sign the petition, go to Thank you. 

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