|Al Arabiya News, April 5, 2021 [Image Source]|
U.S. law requires the Secretary of State to provide Congress, by April 30 of each year, a full and complete report on terrorism with regard to those countries and groups meeting criteria set forth in the legislation. This annual report is entitled Country Reports on Terrorism. Beginning with the report for 2004, it replaced the previously published Patterns of Global Terrorism.The report covers developments in countries in which acts of terrorism occurred, countries that are state sponsors of terrorism, and countries determined by the Secretary to be of particular interest in the global war on terror. As provided in the legislation, the report reviews major developments in bilateral and multilateral counterterrorism cooperation as well. The report also provides information on terrorist groups responsible for the death, kidnapping, or injury of Americans...
If you're reading this on the This Ongoing War blog site, you probably know our interest isn't academic or theoretical. We want our child's killer, an admitted bomber, a zealous terrorist and for more than a decade a media celebrity in Jordan, brought to Washington to face trial for her central role in the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria massacre atrocity.
Her name is Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi. She has so far evaded American justice thanks to a dubious and highly problematic claim made by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in March 2017 that the Jordan/US extradition treaty is invalid.
The problematic part of this stems from how the US has demonstrated incredible and almost totally-unreported deference towards its Jordanian ally by deflecting attention and commentary away from the embarrassment of America's most lavishly funded foreign-aid beneficiary sticking a finger in Washngton's eye.
At the same time, in one of the exceedingly rare communications we have gotten from any State Department officials, a senior figure in Washington sent us a letter dated October 25, 2022 which makes some bold and serious-sounding claims about what the sender calls "a foremost priority for the United States" when refrring to bringing Tamimi to US justice.
In the five months since that letter was sent to us, we have responded to that official in writing on seven occasions. Number of responses received by us: nil.
|The last photo taken of our daughter Malki |
the evening before her murder
But first this.
The Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against Tamimi almost a decade ago on July 15, 2013: see "US -v- Ahlam Al-Tamimi - Criminal Complaint (Sbarro Pizzeria Bombing)". She's been free the entire time. And not only free but influential in the worst way. She's a poster child for terrorism with access for most of the past decade to high-powered media channels. Now read on.
At the request of DOJ prosecutors, the crminal complaint (essentially the same as an indictment) was then immediately sealed, meaning it remained undisclosed and unknown to us and to the general public for the next four more years.
We wrote about the eventual announcement here: "14-Mar-17: Sbarro massacre mastermind is now formally charged and her extradition is requested".
What we were quietly told by people familiar with the details is that between the summer of 2013 and the spring of 2017, the US made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to persuade the Jordanians to extradite Tamimi to Washington. They were doing their best to get a strategic US ally to respect and comply with their bilateral treaty. And they failed.
It's likely those efforts continued after the charges were made public. But no details have ever been made public. However there's little doubt about the bottom line: the Jordanians were not willing and remain unwilling today to do what their solemn bilateral treaty demands they do. What the US position is in all of this is worth trying to decipher.
What the reports reveal
If you look at the annual State Department Country Reports on Terrorism for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, there's a consistent and unmissable emphasis on how true Jordan is to the mission of defeating the terrorists. The praise flows without interruption down through the years.
The 2014 report, issued a couple of months after the deadline in June 2015 [PDF] says in its Overview to the Jordan section starting at page 182, that in the year under review -
Jordan remained a key ally and a model partner in combating terrorism and extremist ideology. Jordan’s geographic location leaves it vulnerable to a variety of regional threats, while also facilitating its regional leadership in confronting them... Jordan demonstrated regional leadership in the fight against ISIL, joined the Global Coalition from the outset, and participated fully on the diplomatic, political, financial, and military fronts...
There's no mention here of Tamimi. She had been received as a hero in Jordan in October 2011 and hosted a weekly made-in-Jordan global TV show starting in early 2012 and continuing for the next five years. This Hamas-aligned program, beamed throughout the world and garnering an international audience of Arabic speakers, had a singular focus of encouraging support for terror. That show, "Breezes of the Free", was still thrilling its worldwide audience weekly at the time the report was published.
Once again, no mention of Tamimi. Nor of the 1995 treaty or its breach or her weekly terror-promoting TV show.Jordan remained a key U.S. ally in countering terrorism and violent extremist ideology in 2015. Jordan’s location in a tumultuous region made it vulnerable to a variety of threats, yet also facilitated its regional leadership in confronting them. Jordan continued to take part in all key aspects of the Global Coalition to Counter Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)...
The 2016 report came out on July 19, 2017, later than in the past. By then, the US criminal charges against Tamimi had been unsealed in Washington (that was done on March 14, 2017). And Jordan's Court of Cassation had ruled on March 20, 2017 that Jordan was free to ignore the 1995 Extradition Treaty with the United States because it was flawed and for that reason invalid. [See "Jordan court blocks extradition of bombing suspect to US", Associated Press]
Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism in 2016. As a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Jordan played an important role in Coalition successes in degrading the terrorist group’s territorial control and operational reach. Jordan faced a marked increase in terrorist threats, both domestically and along its borders...
Tamimi once again isn't mentioned at all.
The 2017 report emerged on September 19, 2018, nearly five months after Congress' statutory deadline. By that time Tamimi, who continued to be harbored by Jordan in breach of the 1995 treaty but was never in hiding and lived an unusually high profile public life, had already been an FBI Most Wanted for a year and a half. Her TV show had meanwhile run its course and had come to an end.
The report again says
Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism in 2017. As a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Jordan played an important role in Coalition successes in degrading the terrorist group’s territorial control and operational reach. Although Jordan experienced a decrease in terrorist activity in 2017 compared to the previous year, the country faced a continued threat posed by terrorist groups, both domestically and along its borders...
This time, however, the Tamimi case is a key part of the discussion:
A U.S. criminal complaint was unsealed in March charging Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. The charge is related to her participation in an August 9, 2001, suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Four other U.S. nationals were among the approximately 122 others injured in the attack. Also unsealed was a warrant for Al-Tamimi’s arrest and an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant. Jordan’s courts have ruled that their constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals.
We were gratified to note that the State Department narrative explicitly mentions Tamimi's victims in addition to the fugitive zealot herself. At the same tine, it raised some troubling concerns:
- The validity of the 1995 US/Jordan treaty isn’t discussed here at all.
- What does get mentioned is the Jordanian view that their constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals. Whatever the compleixities of Jordan's stand, this claim is plainly untrue. There's abundant evidence that Jordan has - and is very public about - the multiple extradition treaties it has negotiated with numerous countries.
- What's more - and this too goes unmentioned - Jordan has extradited to the US multiple times in the past.
- Does the United States regard the extradition of Tamimi as being within the power of Jordan to do? There's no examination here of that question.
A U.S. criminal complaint was unsealed in 2017 charging Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. The charge is related to her participation in the August 9, 2001 suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Four other U.S. nationals were among the approximately 122 others injured in the attack. Also unsealed was a warrant for Al-Tamimi’s arrest and an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant. In 2018, Jordan continued to cite a court ruling that its constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals. The United States regards the extradition treaty as valid.
- The extradition treaty is mentioned.
- For the first time, the US calls it valid. That should never gave been a contentious issue but it's good to see it there in black and white.
The 2019 report was published on June 24, 2020. It covers terrain similar to that of the previous edition but significantly more than in earlier years.
In 2019, Jordan did not extradite Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, who has been charged in the United States with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. The charge is related to her participation in the August 9, 2001, suicide bomb attack at a pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Four other U.S. nationals were among the approximately 122 others injured in the attack. Following publication of the 2018 Country Reports on Terrorism, Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi confirmed that U.S. authorities asked Jordan to extradite Tamimi, and he expressed the view that Jordan’s constitution does not allow the extradition of a Jordanian citizen to a third country. The United States regards the extradition treaty with Jordan as valid and in force.Notably it adds the view of Jordan's foreign minister (who has also been the kingdom's deputy prime minister since 2021) that Jordan had indeed been asked by its American ally and benefactor to comply with the extradition request made under the treaty. And that in US government eyes the treaty is not only valid (as the 2018 report says it is) but also "in force".
Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism. As a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Jordan played an important role in Defeat-ISIS successes by preventing the terrorist group from regaining any territorial control and restricting its operational reach…But then this:
The United States continued to press Jordan to extradite Jordanian citizen Ahlam al-Tamimi for her role in a 2001 suicide bomb attack at a pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15, including 2 U.S. citizens.And that's all they say.
- While the word “extradition” does appear...
- the 1995 treaty is not mentioned at all.
- The legal duty to comply with a treaty obligation is translated to an absurdly, misleadingly bland formulation in which the US continues to press. Pressing for a decade? Is that even called a press?
- No statement that Jordan breaches the treaty
- No mention of the fact that the US views the treaty as being valid and in full force.
- And this: The State Department's authoritative Treaties in Force, an on-line compendium whose name describes its contents and function well, lists the Clinton-era Jordan/US extradition treaty at page 245 of the downloadable PDF in these words: "LAW ENFORCEMENT - Extradition treaty. - Signed at Washington March 28, 1995 - Entered into force July 29, 1995."
Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism in 2021. As a regional leader etc.
and then goes on to say this about Tamimi and her scandalous freedom:
The United States has emphasized to the Jordanian government the importance of holding Ahlam al-Tamimi accountable in a U.S. court for her admitted role in a 2001 bombing in Jerusalem that included two Americans among the 15 victims. She had been serving a prison sentence in Israel for a terrorism conviction related to the bombing before she was released by Israel as part of a prisoner exchange.
It's fair to say the cold disdain to which we, the parents of one of Tamimi's victims, have been treated at the hands of State Department officials in all the years since Tamimi's indictment, ought to have prepared us for this.
- As with the report covering 2020, the cornerstone 1995 Jordan/US extradition treaty gets no mention here at all.
- In fact, the word ‘extradition’ doesn't even appear.
- The Jordanian court decision invalidating it in 2017 gets no mention either.
- Nor do the grounds on which the invalidation was based by the Jordanian judges.
- Nothing is said about the nature of the flaw alleged by the Jordanian court six years ago. Even if it is real and even if it has legal consequences (both very unlikely), this is a self-inflicted Jordanian flaw.
- And by definition - since it involves a failure by the Jordanian parliament to take a certain step - it's a flaw that could have been cured by the Jordanian parliament on any day that its members sat in session from 1995 right up until this morning. That a defective Jordanian procedure hasn't been repaired is a result of Jordan deciding to leave it that way.
- No mention of the US government's position as articulated in previous State Department Country Reports on Terrorism. The US says the treaty is valid and in force. Why after years of asserting what is plainly true is this central issue now dropped from the State Department analysis?
- No statement that Jordan is breaching it.
- But what is mentioned, and for the first time, is that Tamimi was imprisoned and then released by Israel. There's surely a good reason for the Bureau of Counterterrorism in Washington doing that. But right now we can only think of reasons that are not good.
- Something else that could have - and perhaps should have - been included in this important survey: some mild expression of US determination that in fighting terrorism the US has its principles and red lines. Whether or not the DOJ people articulating them in the 2017 unsealing ceremony for the Tamimi charges believed what they said, they said important things about justice and US determination. Check it out: "Individual Charged in Connection With 2001 Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem That Resulted in Death of Americans" [Department of Justice Media Release, March 14, 2017].
- Has that important moment been flushed away along with the principles and the determination?
- We're not giving up.
- But if we could tap into wider and stronger support from Americans (and not only Americans) who get the same sickening sense we do that Jordan unjustly benefits from unprincipled backing in Washington, we and our pursuit of accuntability and justice would be in a better place.
- If only the State Department's annual reports got more attention.