The “Savage of Sbarro,” as the Legal Insurrection website calls Hamas terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, is the subject of a recently renewed effort to extradite her from Jordan for trial in the United States. As this article series will explore, the political issues surrounding this infamous woman’s life in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories highlight the dangers and dilemmas Western countries face in confronting the Middle East’s jihadist culture.
As the Washington, DC-based Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) explained online, Tamimi earned her moniker by masterminding the August 9, 2001 suicide bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizzeria. As Syracuse University Professor Miriam Edman noted at Legal Insurrection, this Sbarro outlet was “at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, probably one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in Israel.” “I ate at this Sbarro a number of times when I lived in and visited Israel. It was a popular kosher eatery, conveniently located, and a good place to bring the kids,” and, in 2001, “like most public spaces in Israel, the pizzeria wasn’t guarded.”
“Tamimi,” Elman has observed, “has said on repeated occasions that she carefully selected the Sbarro restaurant in order to maximize civilian casualties—especially children and religious Jews.” On the fateful day merely a month before Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks, Tamimi, disguised as a Jewish tourist with a camera and speaking English, escorted the suicide bomber, Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, to the Sbarro. The pair crossed from Palestinian Authority (PA) territory into Israel via the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem and then traveled by taxi to the city center, where Tamimi dropped off the bomber.
As Arnold Roth, an Australian olim who lost his 15-year-old daughter Malki in the bombing, has recounted in interviews and to the press, Masri devastated the Sbarro with a nail bomb hidden in a guitar case. Meanwhile, Tamimi, then a college student studying journalism and part-time news anchor at a Palestinian television station in Ramallah, made her escape in a shuttle bus back to the PA and reported the news that night, including the Sbarro bombing. The blood toll was 15 dead, including eight children like Malki (an American citizen) and a pregnant woman (also an American), and left 122 wounded, including one toddler’s mother (another American) left permanently comatose.
The thoroughly unrepentant Tamimi has in television interviews talked about the anonymous pleasure she took from Palestinians celebrating radio reports of the bombing that day, but she did not have long to celebrate. Israeli police arrested the 21-year-old Tamimi in September 2001, and she received 16 life sentences after her 2003 trial. Her trial judges officially recommended that she never leave prison.
Yet Tamimi walked free on October 18, 2011, in what the leading Zionist website Elder of Ziyon (EoZ) has damned as a “truly immoral prisoner swap” for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Her fellow Hamas terrorists had captured him in a June 25, 2006, raid from the Gaza Strip. As Roth noted at his excellent website This Ongoing War, Shalit “was denied visits from the Red Cross; was not allowed to communicate with family members (to which he was entitled under the Geneva Conventions).”
Tamimi was merely one of 1,027 terrorists Israeli “freed via an extorted commutation of sentence” in exchange for Shalit, Roth noted. In his calculations, these fiends were collectively responsible for 569 Israeli deaths. Yet 79 percent of the surveyed Israeli public supported the exchange, to Roth’s horror and that of his wife Frimet.
As the Jewish-American commentator Jonathan Tobin recently wrote, the Israeli government was “under enormous pressure from an Israeli public” to approve the Shalit exchange. “It was important to Israelis to show the importance put on that one soldier’s life, and how much we were willing to sacrifice to bring him home,” one anonymous Israeli intelligence official concurred. Tobin added that the Israeli government, “like all Jewish leaders down through the ages,” believed “that the religious commandment to redeem captives must be obeyed.”
By 2013, the experience with Tamimi and her fellow convicts had shifted surveyed Israeli opinion, with 85 percent opposing the Shalit deal. Israel had conditionally commuted these terrorists’ sentences with the stipulation that they forswear terrorism or incitement to terrorism. But EoZ observed that “dozens of the terrorists who were released under the Shalit ransom deal have since been sent back to prison to serve out the remainders of the terms” following commutation violations.
Tamimi, who post-release has repeatedly proclaimed herself as a “resistance movement” member waging “jihad” against the “Zionist enemy” and has tweeted jihadist propaganda, need not fear such Israeli justice. Unlike her fellow former inmates who went to the Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank after an Israeli bus transport to Cairo, Egypt, from there the Jordanian citizen Tamimi flew to Jordan’s capital, Amman. She “lives free as a bird in Amman today,” Roth has noted, an “obscene freedom” for an “appalling woman, a barbarian in every sense of the word,” a “psychopath,” who is “no less monstrous than” Charles Manson.
Others like the American-Israeli commentator Caroline Glick have similarly observed how the “mass murdering monster” Tamimi is “living the good life” in Jordan. In particular, the media noted her 2012 “celebrity terrorist wedding” to her cousin Nizar, who is merely one jihadist in the Israel-hating Tamimi clan from the Samarian village of Nabi Saleh. The two Tamimis had become engaged in 2005 when both were serving Israeli life sentences. Both then benefited from the Shalit exchange, and Nizar was able subsequently to cross from the West Bank into Jordan due to yet another controversial Israeli decision.
The brutal murder of the Israeli Jew Chaim Mizrahi shows that Nizar is truly a man after Ahlam’s heart. His jihad occurred six weeks after Israel signed on September 13, 1993, at the White House with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) the Oslo Accords that established the PA. When Mizrahi made a weekly visit to Ramallah to buy eggs from a friendly Palestinian farmer, a habit of many years, Nizar and yet another Tamimi cousin, Said, stabbed Mizrahi, stuffed him in his car’s trunk, and burnt him alive.
No sane person could object to the Tamimis spending life behind bars. Justice particularly would demand that Jordan extradite Ahlam to the United States to face trial for destroying three American lives. Yet the reality blocking such retribution is that she is a popular jihadist heroine in Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and much of the wider Muslim world, as the next article will examine.