Jerusalem — For the past few years, Arnold Roth and his wife, Frimet, have spent numerous hours in Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem pleading with U.S. Justice Department officials to arrest the surviving terrorist who helped blow up the Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem in August 2001.
The Roths’ 15-year-old daughter Malki, a dual American-Israeli citizen, was one of the 15 people murdered in the attack.
So the Roths’ initially felt a wave of relief when, on March 14, the DOJ unsealed a 2013 criminal complaint against Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, the suicide bomber’s accomplice, and announced it was seeking her extradition from Jordan.
But the couple’s hopes for justice were tempered five days later when Jordan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling not to send Al-Tamimi to the U.S. The reason: the Jordanian parliament never ratified the 1995 U.S.-Jordan extradition agreement.
In 2003, an Israeli court sentenced Al-Tamimi to life in prison, but the government released her eight years later in the prisoner swap with Hamas that freed imprisoned soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel handed over 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
Al-Tamimi, who has often spoken with pride about the role she played in the bombing, has been living freely in Jordan ever since, with the exception of one night in 2016, after the Jordanian branch of Interpol arrested her at the behest of the DOJ. She was released the next day on bail and has kept a relatively low profile.
That changed on March 23, when Al-Tamimi told Al-Jazeera in an interview that the U.S. is trying to destroy her life.
“The U.S. government, which is always trying to solve the problems of the world, especially in the Middle East, has decided to go after one woman for no obvious reasons,” she told the Arab news network.
She blamed U.S.-based pro-Israel groups for “steer[ing] the U.S. government to go after me, even after I was convicted and spent many years in Israeli prisons.”
The terrorist called on the American people “to look at the case against me as an unjust case and speak out to stand with me and the truth. I want to lead a normal life, continue my education and raise a family. All l want now is for the U.S. government to just leave me alone.”
Reached by phone in Jerusalem soon after reading Al-Tamimi’s interview, Arnold Roth said her words made him feel physically ill.
“This whole process has been devastating, especially the last few weeks,” Roth said. “We’ve had to confront the reality that despite our best efforts, our daughter Malki is just a statistic for most people reporting” on Al-Tamimi.
Roth said the Arab media’s depiction of Al-Tamimi as a victim enduring what Al-Jazeera called “an ordeal,” underlines “the unbridgeable gulf between people immersed in a culture of terrorism and the rest of us who are horrified to see how they are wallowing in terror.”
Roth said the Justice Department kept him and Frimet in the dark about its four-year-old criminal complaint until just before its announcement, even though the extradition proceedings grew out of the Roths’ efforts.
“Learning that events were taking place to pursue her without our knowing anything was difficult,” he acknowledged. “Now that we know that [Al-Tamimi] has been dealing with the authorities and winning, it’s horrifying for people like us who believe in law and order.”
The fact that the Justice Department and the FBI, which carried out the actual investigation, have been unsuccessfully pursuing Al-Tamimi’s extradition for at least a couple of years raises questions, Roth said.
“If pressure was brought to bear on the Jordanians, I’d like to know what the Jordanians said,” Roth continued. “Presumably someone was pushing back because they think she’s a hero. Does this include the government of Jordan? We ought to know because if you’re going to make a [diplomatic] strategic alliance with people who think terrorism is bad unless it’s not, people are entitled to know it and there should be consequences.”
Richard Heideman, a partner in the law firm Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik PC, which has successfully sued governments on behalf of Israeli and other terror victims, agreed that countries, companies and individuals who aid and abet terrorism must be held accountable.
“It is crucially important that victims of terror and their families stand up against those who commit, sponsor and fund terror organizations and acts of terror,” the attorney said, adding that the path to justice “is not only a matter of bringing litigation in a courtroom. It is also standing up and speaking about terror in the court of public opinion.” Most people, he said, “want to forget about terror attacks, but the victims and their families can never forget.”
American-Israelis have sued Iran and other countries for their role in state-sponsored terrorism under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and non-government entities like banks under the Anti-Terrorism Act. In September, Congress passed the Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which 9/11 victims are using to sue Saudi Arabia.
Among many other cases, Heideman’s firm successfully represented several victims of the second intifada against the Arab Bank PLC, a Jordanian bank, for funding Hamas, and has sued Iran on behalf of Israeli victims.
In 2016, Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law center that represents Israeli terror victims and their families, filed a suit against Facebook on behalf of 20,000 Israeli plaintiffs. The suit demands that Facebook prevent incitement against Jews and Israelis.
Shurat HaDin also filed a $1 billion suit — since linked to the above suit — on behalf of five American terrorism victims or their families.
Both suits allege that Facebook has violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by “knowingly providing material support and resources to Hamas.”
Although a U.S. federal judge dismissed a similar suit against Twitter filed by families of Americans murdered in Jordan, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Shurat HaDin’s founder, said she is “hopeful” her Facebook suits will proceed in court.
Facebook, she said, “is allowing its platform to be used by terror groups to raise funds, to deliver their propaganda and to recruit terrorists.”
Stephen Flatow, who successfully sued Iran for its supportive role in the death of his daughter Aliza in a 1995 attack carried out by Hamas, said the goal “is to force terror’s sponsors out of the terrorism business by making it prohibitively expensive for them to support terrorism.”
In its March 14 announcement about its criminal complaint against Al-Tamimi, the DOJ acknowledged Jordan’s stonewalling but vowed to “continue to work with its foreign partners to obtain custody of Al-Tamimi so she can be held accountable for her role in the terrorist bombing. The FBI also announced today that Al-Tamimi has been placed on its list of Most Wanted Terrorists.”
Despite the setbacks Roth said he and his wife will continue to fight for justice for their daughter, who was, according to eyewitnesses, near the pizzeria’s counter with a friend when the bomber set off the explosives.
“You’d have to think hard to come up with a situation more filled with injustice than an attack on a school holiday at a place frequented by large numbers of children,” he said.
“We are not disheartened but we are constantly reminded of how loaded against individuals the system can be. We have received offers of help from a variety of sources. We’ve endured 16 years of life without Malki and know she’s not coming back, but we have faith in justice and the decency of the people who serve justice.” (Roth said he didn’t know whether the extradition was broached when Prident Trump met last week with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.)
Roth said he and his wife maintain “ongoing contacts” with members of the U.S. Congress “in the hope some effective steps can be taken to restore the Jordanian government to its senses.
“We want to see her rot in prison,” he said.