Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi is the most wanted woman in the world, with a $5 million bounty for information that leads to her arrest or conviction.
Tamimi is accused by U.S. officials of conspiring to use--and using--a weapon of mass destruction, and masterminding a brazen Hamas terrorist attack that killed 15 – including eight children and two Americans, one of whom was pregnant.
Despite being on the run from American authorities, Tamimi has been hiding in plain sight for years-- under the eye of one of the United States' longest and closest allies in the Middle East: Jordan.
Despite requests from Washington, the Kingdom has been publicly steadfast in its refusal to extradite Tamimi, who at just 20 years old masterminded the suicide bombing on the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem three weeks before planes struck the U.S on Sept. 11, 2001.
The attack claimed the lives of two Americans, 15-year-old Malki Roth, and Shoshana Yehudit Greenbaum, who was five months pregnant with her first child at the time. In addition to the two murdered Americans and the unborn infant, four more U.S. nationals were among the some 122 injured. At least one of the victims remains in a vegetative state.
For Roth's parents, the fight for some semblance of justice has already been a long one – and the bumpy road stretches on.
“We are in touch with members of Congress and U.S. government officials. The situation is fluid, and there are some indications of meaningful progress,” Malki’s father, Arnold Roth, told Fox News from Jerusalem. “Our sense is that the law and enforcement parts of the U.S. government have done everything that needs to be done to set the stage. What is preventing extradition is the political will to see the Sbarro bomber brought to justice.”
Two years after the Jerusalem attack, Tamimi pled guilty in an Israeli court for her pivotal role and received 16 life sentences and an additional 250 years behind bars.
U.S. federal laws also came into play because Malki Roth, who was born in Australia, held American citizenship at the time.
In 2011, Tamimi was part of a prisoner swap in which Israel released more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners – many of whom were serving life sentences for assaults on Israelis – for the return of one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas four years earlier.
“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 Israeli intelligence official, who requested anonymity, told Fox News of the exchange.
Most of the Hamas operatives and sympathizers released were sent to Gaza and the West Bank. Tamimi and her husband were among a handful relocated to neighboring Jordan, under varying terms of restriction.
But seemingly no one anticipated the terrorist’s rise to public fame.
Tamimi, who is now 39, refers to herself as a journalist and was purportedly given free rein to host her own program on a local TV station broadcast from the city of Ramallah, focused on “occupation practices.” Moreover, she was left unencumbered to bolster a heroic image, of which she has dedicated fan pages, which claim that she “holds a medal of honor” for her “life imprisonment in Zion prisons.”
Tamimi has also given several interviews detailing and illuminating her role, admitting that she selected the restaurant because it was known to be a favorite for families, and expressing her delight that so many children were slain.
“I was really shocked at the American behavior,” Tamimi told an Al Jazeera reporter from her home in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2017, detailing how she was suddenly arrested by a branch of Interpol and spent one night in jail before successfully fighting extradition through the Jordanian courts. “The U.S. government, who is always trying to solve the problems of the world, has decided to go after one woman for no obvious reasons.”
Several employees of Al-Quds TV told Fox News that they are no longer operating. The diplomatic spotlight on the case – and the hefty bounty on her head – has prompted Tamimi to slide under the radar in recent months.
“She doesn’t appear on TV. The last time she popped up was March 2019,” noted Yotam Feldner, director of Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) TV. “Last time her Facebook was active was in 2011.”
Yet for the Roth family, the notion of their daughter’s killer living a life of freedom and open glee renders more than just a jar to the stomach.
“It is audacious that she was allowed to host a program solidly identified with her and what she embodies – unhindered for nearly five years. We are talking about a program that places terrorists on a pedestal,” conjectured Arnold Roth. “She has always maintained a noisy social media presence. But that part of her noisy activity is currently in abeyance after we were instrumental in getting Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to, one by one, shut down her known accounts.”
The U.S. government first filed under seal a criminal complaint against Tamimi in 2013. The criminal complaint was publicly unsealed in March 2017. But almost three years later, and she still remains free.
The Jordanian government has argued that Tamimi cannot be extradited on the grounds that there is no treaty with the U.S. While the late King Hussein, who died in 1999, is reported to have signed the extradition treaty on March 28, 1995, it was not signed into law by the Jordanian parliament.
“Legally, Jordan’s parliament has to ratify a treaty, much the same way that the U.S. Congress has to ratify any treaty signed by the president in order for it to have the force of law,” explained Josh Lipowsky, a senior researcher at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP). “Nonetheless, King Abdullah could choose to honor the extradition request as a goodwill gesture to the United States or if he believes it is in Jordan’s best interests.”
He stressed that even without a formally ratified treaty, King Abdullah “can override the courts’ decision not to extradite Tamimi” and that it is “a matter of weighing potential damage to the U.S.-Jordan relationship versus the threat of upsetting some on the Jordanian street."
“For now, the risk is low for King Abdullah to keep Tamimi in Jordan, but that could change if the United States were to threaten economic sanctions against Jordan,” Lipowsky continued. “The passage of the Omnibus Spending Bill in December threatens to sever financial aid to any country that ignores a U.S. extradition request of somebody indicted for a criminal offense that carries a life sentence. Tamimi’s 2017 U.S. indictment carries the penalty of life imprisonment or death, which means Jordanian aid could be threatened if her extradition is not carried out.”
Several sources in both the U.S. and Israel acknowledged that the extradition request does put the Hashemite Kingdom – a strong and necessary ally in the tumultuous region – in a difficult position given that an estimated 70 percent of those in Jordan are of Palestinian origin. Thus, King Abdullah needs to maintain popularity with the overwhelming majority both from a political and security standpoint.
Jordan has made extradition exceptions in years past. In 1995, Jordan allowed the U.S. to extract Eyad Ismoil, a Jordanian national, to stand trial over his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment specifically on the Tamimi case, but on its website denotes that it “deeply values its long history of cooperation and friendship with Jordan,” a diplomatic relationship that dates back to 1949.
“In light of ongoing regional unrest, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation,” the bilateral relations fact sheet states.
The U.S. is Jordan’s single largest provider of assistance, “providing over $1.7 billion in 2017, including $1.3 billion in bilateral foreign assistance and over $200 million in Department of Defense support.”
Yet some critics have pointed to the notion that despite the huge sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars dished to Jordan, they still refuse to hand over Tamimi, who masterminded the death of an American child.
“The Kingdom freely takes American foreign aid, relies upon Washington to safeguard it militarily and claims they are a modern state that respects the rule of law. No one, not even Tamimi, denies her role in perpetrating these mass bombings that killed and injured U.S. citizens,” contended Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israeli law firm Shurat HaDin, which represents some of the Sbarro bombing victims. “Just as the Trump administration is pressing every ally from Europe to Canada to NATO to start to fulfill obligations, Jordan must be forcefully pressed and compelled.”
According to the Israeli intelligence source, Tamimi is just one of many in a “well-known” family line accused of waging war in the bitter battle between Palestinians and Israelis.
Among the clan of cousins is said to be that of Ahed Tamimi, a 19-year-old Palestinian activist who has gained international notoriety in recent years for her bold confrontations with Israeli soldiers. In late 2017, she was detained for slapping a soldier and subsequently spent seven months in prison, her signature curls and youthful face becoming a symbol for the proclaimed Palestinian “freedom fight.”
Last April, her younger brother, Mohammed Tamimi, then 15, was arrested along with their cousin Muayyid in overnight raids in response to “rioting and other disturbances.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice told Fox News that while they cannot discuss the next steps in terms of specifics regarding the extradition request, it remains a matter of “particular importance.”
The Australian and Jordanian embassies in Washington, D.C. did not respond to requests for comment.
But for the Roth parents, it’s a nightmare they are compelled to fight through every day – and they are determined not to stop in their quest to see the woman who wears American blood on her hands have her day in U.S. court.
“Thinking about our precious Malki, looking at photos of her, even just hearing her name, is unspeakably painful even nearly 20 years on,” said her mother, Frimet Roth. “I force myself to post pieces about her periodically so she won’t be forgotten and so that the evil massacre that she perished in won’t be either.”
Frimet remembers everything about her daughter, who will forever be a smiling 15-year-old in her heart. Her talents as a classical flutist, her voluntary work caring for children with severe disabilities, including her sister, 10 years her junior.
“Malki’s love and devotion to Haya, our profoundly disabled child, was positively astounding. Malki also found time to be a loving daughter and granddaughter as well. We often walked arm-in-arm together. She usually ended our phone conversations with ‘I love you,’ which I distinctly recall she did the last time we spoke,” Frimet added. “Just one hour before she was snatched from us forever.”