Interpol’s scandalous decision needs to be held up for close inspection. The organization needs to tell the world what went into its decision. Surely her masterminding of a terror attack that left 15 dead and 130 wounded is sufficient for her to remain on Interpol’s Most Wanted List? Who in Interpol first suggested that she be removed from its lists? Or did someone powerful, or some government, from the outside put pressure on the organization to do so? Who at Interpol – was it a committee or an individual? — made the final decision in favor of Ahlam Al-Tamimi? Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organization — has just announced that it is removing Ahlam Al-Tamimi, who had been on its Most Wanted List, not just from that list, but removed her name altogether from Interpol’s list of wanted criminals. She is, in Interpol’s laconic announcement, “no longer subject to notice.” Without any fear of being arrested by Interpol, Al-Tamimi is likely to now be able to travel throughout much of the Islamic world.
Ahlam al-Tamimi is the photogenic Palestinian Arab woman, and murderer, who was originally put on the list for her masterminding the suicide bombing of the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in 2001, in which 15 were killed, eight of them children, and 130 wounded. It was she who selected the place and time of the attack for maximum casualties (families with children, on an outing to have pizza), and drove the bomber to the site, where he set off a bomb. Two of those murdered were American citizens; a third American citizen, Chana Neuchenberg, has been in a vegetative state for the past 20 years.
Ahlam Al-Tamimi was tried, convicted, and imprisoned by the Israelis, but freed in the lopsided prisoner swap – 1,027 Palestinians for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit – in 2011. She then went to Jordan, where she has been leading a happy, prosperous, and admired life.
Al-Tamimi has been treated as a celebrity in Jordan; she even had her own television talk show, Nasim Al-Ahrar (Breeze of the Free) between 2011 and 2016 on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Quds TV. It dealt with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Ahlam is married to her cousin, Nizar Tamimi, another terrorist murderer. In 1993, Nizar Tamimi and a relative, Said Tamimi, murdered Chaim Mizrahi, a student from the West Bank who had gone to buy eggs, as he did each week, from a Palestinian farmer in Ramallah. Nizar and Said Tamimi stabbed Mizrahi to death, stuffed his body into the trunk of his car, and set the vehicle alight. Nizar and Ahlam were clearly made for each other. And in Jordan, since 2011 (the year that both were freed in that grotesquely lopsided prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas), they have lived the Life of Riley, doing well financially and made much of as a couple celebrated, rather than shunned, for their terrorist murders.
Now that her regular television show is over, Ahlam continues to make frequent media appearances, including a recent appearance on the BBC Arabic channel that treated her with great, and nauseating, deference.
Washington has made endless efforts to get Jordan to honor its extradition treaty with the U.S. and deliver Tamimi up to American justice, but so far Jordan has refused, claiming the treaty has not yet been ratified. The Jordanian authorities can of course extradite her without a treaty, but they are scared of the reaction of their Palestinian population, for whom Al-Tamimi is the very model of what a Palestinian woman “in the resistance” should be. Even though Jordan has been the recipient of billions of dollars in American aid over many years, it remains unwilling to hand over someone who had taken part in the terrorist murder and maiming of Americans. There are those in Congress who think Jordan’s continued refusal to hand over Ahlam Al-Tamimi should result in a cut of aid. Now that Interpol has removed her from their list, she will enjoy greater freedom of movement; the U.S. needs to exert real pressure on Jordan to have Ahlam Al-Tamimi delivered up. The Palestinians, especially in Jordan, will be furious, but the Jordanian government can explain it had no choice: if it did not hand her over to the Americans, billions of dollars in aid money could be cut, devastating the Jordanian economy and harming the very people protesting her rendition.
Tamimi has never expressed any remorse for her act of mass murder: “I do not regret what happened. Absolutely not. This is the path. I dedicated myself to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and Allah granted me success. You know how many casualties there were. This was made possible by Allah. Do you want me to denounce what I did? That’s out of the question. I would do it again today, and in the same manner.”
Tamimi has also expressed satisfaction at the sizable death count, including those of the children, and recounted her earlier disappointment when initial reports stated lower counts. After hearing an initial report that “three people were killed” in the bombing, Tamimi stated: “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’…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.”
In short, this sweetly-smiling woman — much admired by Palestinians and Jordanians, is a moral monster. Streets and squares in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority territories may be named after her; perhaps they already are. Palestinian schoolbooks will – or perhaps already do – describe her as the very model of a female “resistance fighter,” worthy of emulation. Despite all this, at least we have consoled ourselves with the fact that she was on Interpol’s list of the Most Wanted, and might someday face justice for killing Americans. Until now.
Ahlam Al-Tamimi must be feeling pretty good. She’s won a place in the terrorist pantheon. She’s a household name for Arabs; in Jordan she’s a media personality who has been living off of her fame as a brave “resistance” fighter against “the Zionist enemy.” And now not even Interpol is after her.
Interpol owes the world an explanation. The American government has both a right and a duty to demand that Interpol explain exactly why it has chosen to remove Ahlam al-Tamimi from its list of most wanted – or even wanted — criminals. Nothing she has done since then has lessened her offense. She has repeatedly expressed her complete lack of remorse, the pleasure she felt at learning about the large number of victims, her wish that there had been even more.
Interpol’s scandalous decision needs to be held up for close inspection. The organization needs to tell the world what went into its decision. Surely her masterminding of a terror attack that left 15 dead and 130 wounded is sufficient for her to remain on Interpol’s Most Wanted List? Who in Interpol first suggested that she be removed from its lists? Or did someone powerful, or some government, from the outside put pressure on the organization to do so? Who at Interpol – was it a committee or an individual? — made the final decision in favor of Ahlam Al-Tamimi?
Secretary of State Blinken should take the occasion of this scandalous Interpol announcement to describe, in a speech – perhaps to some law enforcement group – why the American government will continue to press for Ahlam Al-Tamimi’s rendition, wherever she is and whether or not Interpol has ceased to care. Let him remind the world how she masterminded the terrorist attack on the Sbarro pizzeria, her ghoulish pleasure in the number of killed and wounded, her utter lack of remorse, and her cosseted life in Jordan, where she became a media celebrity. And then he should end with this:
“Interpol has some explaining to do. Its criminal database includes the names of those who are wanted for serious crimes, but have managed to escape beyond the borders of the country where the crime took place. And there are 7,000 names on Interpol’s Most Wanted List – these are for the most serious criminals, who are now global fugitives. Al-Tamimi had been on that list. She was wanted in the United States for the murder, in Israel, of American citizens. Her crime was particularly atrocious: she chose to target a pizzeria because, she said, she knew there would be many families with children present. She drove the suicide bomber to the site. She has never expressed remorse, only delight, at her participation in mass murder. She has been given celebrity status in Jordan, a country that has refused to honor our requests for her extradition, but has no problem receiving our generous aid package every year.
“In removing Ahlam al-Tamimi not only from its Most Wanted List, but also expunging her name from the larger list of criminals, Interpol appears to have lost its head. It is difficult to fathom what has led to this decision. We will keep pressing Interpol, and asking our allies to do the same, until we get a satisfactory explanation.”
Interpol needs to be transparent. What was it thinking when it removed the name of Ahlam Al-Tamimi from the list of the Most Wanted? We need answers. Interpol, explain yourself.