US considers withholding aid to Jordan to force extradition
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration is considering holding back one of its closest Arab partners, Jordan, to secure the extradition of a woman convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including two American citizens.
The government says it is weighing "all options" to press Jordan to extradite Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, who the United States is looking for to conspire to use a weapon of mass destruction against American citizens. The indictment was filed under seal in 2013 and announced four years later by the Justice Department.
The extradition problem is likely to be addressed this week when King Abdullah II of Jordan speaks to several congressional committees to express his opposition to Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
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Al-Tamimi is on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list for her role in the suicide bombings in a crowded pizzeria in Jerusalem. It was one of the deadliest attacks during the second Palestinian uprising.
She has lived freely in Jordan since Israel released her in a prisoner swap with the militant group Hamas in 2011. The Jordanian authorities have rejected the U.S. applications for surrender despite an extradition agreement. Jordan has a large Palestinian population, and it is unclear whether an aid threat would cause Jordan to rethink its position.
Speaking ahead of King Abdullah's video congressional appearances scheduled for Wednesday with the Senate's Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs Committees, the State Department said billions of dollars of foreign aid to Jordan could be used as a lever to extradite the Jordanian authorities to move from Al-Tamimi.
The threat came in written responses submitted by the government's next US ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to questions from Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
"The United States has several options and different types of leverage to secure the extradition of Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi," wrote Wooster. “We will continue to involve Jordanian officials at all levels not only on this issue but also on the extradition treaty in a broader sense. The US’s generosity to Jordan in funding foreign military, economic and other assistance are carefully calibrated to protect and advance the range of U.S. interests in Jordan and the region. "
When asked whether aid to Jordan would be part of this leverage in the Al-Tamimi case, Wooster replied, "If this were confirmed, I would consider all ways to bring Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi to justice secure and address the general public problems related to the extradition contract. “Wooster's answers to the questions have been received from The Associated Press.
The reference to help with Wooster's reaction was unusual. Previously, the Trump administration and the Obama administration had previously taken a cautious approach to Al-Tamimi and raised him in private talks with Jordanian officials, but before a public fight with a rare Arab country that recognized Israel and Israel, shied away from a reliable source for intelligence information about the region, also in neighboring Syria.
The United States has long been an important aid provider to Jordan. In early 2018, the Trump administration signed a $ 6.4 billion five-year aid agreement with Jordan that increased the annual aid amount by $ 275 million to $ 1.3 billion. This surge "underscores the central role Jordan is playing in promoting and securing regional stability and supports US goals such as the global campaign to combat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation and economic development," the State Department said at the time.
Al-Tamimi was arrested by Israel weeks after the bombing and sentenced to 16 life sentences. However, he was released as part of the 2011 Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange and moved to Jordan. She appeared frequently in the media, expressed no remorse for the attack, and said she was satisfied with the high death toll.
Among the victims of the attack was Malka Roth, a 15-year-old Israeli-American girl whose father Arnold Roth led a campaign to extradite Al-Tamimi.
In an interview on Monday, Roth said his attempts to speak to Jordanian officials, including a letter to the Washington ambassador last year, were ignored. "The Jordanians were extremely rude and unhelpful in every way we tried to contact them," he said.
Roth said he had started making progress with members of Congress and quoted a letter of April 30 signed by seven Republican lawmakers to the Jordanian ambassador to request extradition of Al-Tamimi.
"My wife and I have been fighting since February 2012 for the US to accuse, extradite and prosecute this horrible refugee who is proud to have murdered so many children," he said.
The explosion at the Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem started on the afternoon of August 9, 2001. The attacker detonated explosives that were hidden in a guitar case filled with nails. Among the fatalities, seven were between 2 and 16 years old, and many were wounded.
Al-Tamimi, a Hamas activist who picked the target and led the bomber there, said in an interview with the AP in 2017 that the Palestinians have the right to use all means to oppose Israeli rule.
In 2017, the Jordanian Supreme Court ruled that she could not be extradited. According to reports, the 1995 extradition treaty had not been ratified. She also claimed that the United States had no right to indict her because she had already been tried and sentenced in Israel.
In Jordan, Al-Tamimi's extended family sent a letter to the king on Tuesday asking him to resist American pressure and close the files against them. The request for extradition was "political". "Jordan has and will not compromise under your Hashemite flag to compromise its human dignity and national sovereignty over the entire national soil," the letter said.
There was no immediate comment from the palace.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Omar Akour from Amman, Jordan, contributed to this.
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