Skip to main content

How Jordan’s refusal to extradite a convicted terrorist could imperil $1.5 billion in US aid

Conservative Republicans are turning to a new law that could cut Jordan off from as much as $1.5 billion in US assistance unless it agrees to extradite a woman who helped bomb an Israeli restaurant in 2001.
Jordanian freed prisoner Ahlam Tamimi  speaks to reporters upon her arrival at Queen Alia international airport in Amman, late October 18, 2011. Ahlam was sentenced to 16 life terms in jail for her involvement in attacks on the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in August 2001. The Palestinian Hamas movement exchanged Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who spent more than five years of isolation in a Gaza hide-out, for hundreds of Palestinian militants being held in Israeli  jails. AFP PHOTO/KHALIL MAZRAAWI (Photo

A group of House Republicans have lost patience with Jordan for its refusal to extradite Ahlam al-Tamimi, a Jordanian woman who helped kill 15 people, including two Americans, in a 2001 bomb attack on a Sbarro pizzeria in Israel. The seven conservative lawmakers are now turning to a law they passed in December that could eliminate Jordan’s $1.5 billion in American economic and military aid unless Amman turns Tamimi in to face the US criminal justice system.

Rep. Gregory Steube, R-Fla., and six of his House Republican colleagues pressed the issue last month in a letter to Jordan’s envoy to Washington, Dina Kawar.

“Seeing Jordan provide a confessed bomber with legal impunity while rebuffing an arrest warrant and extradition request from its most significant ally and friend, the United States, amounts to a deeply troubling scenario,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe it is of the highest importance to US/Jordan relations that an outcome is found that honors Jordanian law while ensuring the unrepentant terrorist and murderer of innocent Americans is brought to US justice."

The letter threatens sanctions on Jordan under a provision in the foreign aid spending bill Congress passed into law last year. However, the provision in question — written with Jordan’s refusal to extradite Tamimi in mind — doesn’t actually authorize sanctions.

Instead, the legislation bars US foreign assistance to the central government of any country that has an extradition treaty with Washington and violates the treaty by refusing to “extradite to the United States any individual indicted for a criminal offense for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”

That language threatens to cut Jordan off from the $1.5 billion in US economic and military assistance that Congress gave the kingdom for fiscal year 2020 as part of the very same spending bill. Jordan — a bipartisan darling of congressional appropriators because of its 1994 peace treaty with Israel — is heavily reliant on foreign aid, and the COVID-19 pandemic is set to deepen that dependence.

“Jordan is a tremendous recipient of US aid, at the cost of $1.75 billion a year, and of Israeli assistance, with agriculture, with medicine, with high tech and with water,” said Sarah Stern, president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel group that has pushed Congress to pressure Jordan on the Tamimi case. “Why is it just a one-way street? The United States has certain principles and certain values that we, as a nation, stand for.”

The legislation, backed by the endowment, does allow Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a national security waiver that would allow US aid to Jordan to continue even if it fails to extradite Tamimi. Pompeo’s thinking is currently unclear, as neither the State Department nor the Jordanian Embassy responded to Al-Monitor’s request for comment.

Israel gave Tamimi 16 life sentences in prison for her role in the 2001 attack but released her as part of a 2011 prisoner exchange with Hamas. Since then, Tamimi has become a popular media personality in Jordan, which hosts more than 2 million Palestinian refugees.

The United States unveiled terrorism charges against Tamimi and requested her extradition in 2017 under the terms of a 1995 treaty with Jordan. Shortly thereafter, Jordan’s Court of Cassation ruled that the extradition treaty was invalid.

“Harboring a known murderer of American citizens and refusing our extradition request, when we have a signed extradition treaty with Jordan, and when the government of Jordan has extradited three other terrorists, at our request, who are serving out lengthy sentences in American maximum security prisons, it’s absurd that they now claim that no extradition treaty exists,” Stern told Al-Monitor.

Tamimi is currently on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists and the State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information that leads to her arrest or conviction.