It was 2 a.m., about 12 hours after the Sbarro suicide bombing, when Arnold Roth received a phone call from two of his sons. Arnold’s daughter, Malki, had been missing since the terrorist detonated himself, and her two brothers went to check the Abu Kabir morgue, hoping it was just an empty lead.
“We found Malki,” said the younger of Arnold’s two sons. “It’s all over.”
Arnold’s wife, Frimet, saw the look on her husband’s face and understood what happened. At that point, Frimet ran out into the night, screaming while two of her friends (who waited with her on the news) followed her but kept their distance to give Frimet space. At that moment, Frimet’s life was shattered because Malki, her beautiful 15-year-old daughter, was gone forever.
In my line of work, I am all too familiar with the act of barbarism that was the Sbarro massacre, but nothing paints a more vivid picture than the words of Arnold Roth, who sat with me 22 years after the attack to tell me his story.
What struck me the most from our conversation was the injustice of what happened to him and his family. Not only was their innocent daughter murdered in the cruelest possible way, but the woman who orchestrated Malki’s murder, Ahlam Tamimi, was later released from prison and is living as a free woman in Jordan. Shockingly, instead of being rightfully labeled a monster, Tamimi has been shamefully portrayed in the media as a “resistance fighter” and even hailed as a hero in Arabic outlets. At one point, the Roth family even had to stomach seeing Tamimi’s face in the Arts and Entertainment section of The New York Times, depicted as a celebrity icon.
The Sbarro massacre was a horrific tragedy that shook the entire country and marked one of the deadliest terror attacks during the height of the Second Intifada. On a sunny afternoon, August 9, 2001, the residents of Jerusalem started their day, thinking it would be completely ordinary. The Sbarro pizza restaurant was located at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road, on one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the city. Because of the location’s popularity, Tamimi, a Palestinian-Jordanian and a Hamas terrorist, chose the pizzeria to be the target location of the suicide bombing.
Tamimi escorted Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, the suicide bomber, to the restaurant and left him in the pizzeria filled with customers, including women, children, and babies. Al-Masri, who smuggled explosives in a guitar case to maximize damage, blew himself up moments later. Sixteen people were murdered that day, including 15-year-old Malki Roth and her best friend, Michal. The list of victims also included three American nationals.
Arnold and Frimet buried their daughter the next day, yet even before the Roth family could begin comprehending and processing what had happened to their daughter, a parade of journalists hounded the family to get quotes and interviews. At the time, very few journalists were sensitive to what this family had just gone through, and many behaved in a completely unethical manner. The first call the family received from international media was from an excited talk show host on the BBC who said, “We have the father of the young man who blew himself up, and it will be terribly interesting to my audience to hear the two sides.”
Arnold did not take that interview.
The Sbarro bombing mastermind is free and has shown no remorse
THOSE OF US who have followed the Sbarro massacre have likely seen the subsequent interviews with Tamimi, in which she shows zero remorse for her actions and flashes a sinister smile when hearing how many children died from the attack she orchestrated. Meanwhile, an Israeli court convicted and sentenced Tamimi to 16 terms of life imprisonment with the recommendation by the tribunal judges that she never be released in any political deal.
Whenever Tamimi’s name was mentioned in the media in reference to prisoner swaps, the Justice Ministry assured the Roth family that there were no plans to release her. Over the years, however, it became clear to the Roth family that the woman who orchestrated their daughter’s murder would not stay in prison for long.
In October 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plan to release 1,027 terrorists in a prisoner exchange for Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for about five years. Despite the years of reassurance, the worst had come true for the Roth family: Ahlam Tamimi was one of the terrorists to be released.
The nature of Tamimi’s discharge was akin to twisting the knife and reopening wounds to the families of the Sbarro victims. Tamimi was taken to a private meeting with Khaled Mashaal, former leader of the Hamas terror organization. She was then put on a VIP flight to Jordan and was received as a hero and a model of Palestinian resistance. Today, Tamimi lives in a middle-class neighborhood and is a television presenter on a Hamas-affiliated Jordanian TV channel.
Several weeks following Tamimi’s return to Jordan, the US Department of Justice intervened, since a federal statute mandates that the United States pursue any terrorist accountable for the murder of an American citizen on foreign soil. Today, Tamimi is one of 24 terrorists on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Jordan has refused to comply with its 1995 Extradition Treaty with the US.
Although the US had charged Tamimi under the law in 2013 (and sealed those charges for four years), the Jordanian courts ruled that Tamimi would not be handed over to the FBI because “the treaty was invalid.” Arnold Roth responds, “This is a fabrication: the treaty is invalid because Jordan made it invalid.”
The Roth family has been campaigning and lobbying US officials since 2017, demanding justice for their daughter. Yet, according to Arnold, the US is making no attempts at making this happen while “Israel is playing a quiet role in encouraging the Americans not to press Jordan or put them in a position where they are pressured to hand over Tamimi.”
Time and again, the Roth family has been told that this case is a “priority” for the American government, yet “officials” also claim that handing over Tamimi would destabilize Jordan and the entire Middle East. Arnold points out that in the past, Jordan has extradited terrorists charged by the United States.
It has been 10 years since the charges against Tamimi were filed, and Jordan is no closer to handing her over than it was from day one. Tamimi is roaming as a free woman, without needing to hide or live in secret. As Israelis, we accept that terrorism is a reality, but we cannot accept when politicians, judges and other leaders let a terrorist walk away without paying for her crimes.
Israel has already failed the Roth family; we cannot allow the US to do so as well. We, especially Israeli Americans, are morally obligated to use our voices and demand that Ahlam Tamimi is back where she belongs: behind bars.
The writer is a social media activist with over 10 years of experience working for Israeli and Jewish causes and cause-based NGOs. She is co-founder and COO of Social Lite Creative, a digital marketing firm specializing in geopolitics.