Ahlam al-Tamimi: ‘We only wanted freedom’

Al Jazeera speaks to freed Palestinian prisoner, wanted by the US for helping in a Jerusalem cafe bombing 16 years ago.

Ahlam Tamimi-Ali Younes
Al-Tamimi believes the complaint was a result of pressure from US-based pro-Israel groups [Ali Younes/Al Jazeera]

Amman, Jordan – Ahlam al-Tamimi, 37, never imagined that the quiet life she led for several years in Jordan would be turned upside down when the United States Department of Justice filed criminal charges against her demanding her extradition from Jordan and placing her on the FBI’s most wanted list.

In an interview with Al Jazeera at her home in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Tamimi said that her ordeal with the US extradition request started last September when she was arrested by the Jordanian branch of Interpol while she was driving to visit her parents. After spending one night in jail, she posted bail and started her legal fight against her extradition through Jordanian courts, which ended last Tuesday, seven months later.

When asked why she thinks the US government decided to go after her after all these years, and after she was tried, convicted and served time in Israeli jails, she said: “I was really shocked at the American behaviour.

“The US government, who is always trying to solve the problems of the world, especially in the Middle East, has decided to go after one woman for no obvious reasons.”

In 2013, the US government filed under seal a criminal complaint against Tamimi based on her assistance in an August 9, 2001, bombing of Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two American citizens. The criminal complaint was unsealed publicly last week.

Federal prosecutors accuse Tamimi of having agreed in the summer of 2001 to carry out attacks on behalf of the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement and having travelled with the restaurant bomber to JerusalemProsecutors say that she instructed the bomber to detonate the explosive device, which was hidden in a guitar, in the area.

Tamimi told Al Jazeera that she never knew that American nationals were killed in that bombing. She also said the Israeli government never mentioned that during her trial. “The first time I ever knew that Americans were killed was when the Interpol in Jordan told me about the charges filed in the US against me,” she said.

READ MORE: Ahlam al-Tamimi – Jordan refuses to extradite her to US

Tamimi believes the complaint was a result of pressure from US-based pro-Israel groups. “These groups have somehow been able to steer the US government to go after me. even after I was convicted and spent many years in Israeli prisons.”

Last year, Jordanian lower courts handed her legal victory when it rejected the US request on the ground that the US-Jordan extradition treaty signed in 1995 was unconstitutional because it was never ratified by the Jordanian Parliament.

On Monday, Jordan’s Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s decisions making her extradition legally impossible for Jordan. “All of the Jordanian courts agreed with our position to reject the American request because it was illegal according to Jordan’s constitution,” Hikmat Rawashdeh, Tamimi’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

“The constitution bars extraditing any Jordanian citizen without the due process of the law or proper extradition request, which was not done by the American side,” he added.

Rawashdeh also said that Jordan’s constitution prevents prosecuting an accused person with the same offence twice, similar to the “double jeopardy” clause in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Al Jazeera asked the US Justice Department for its reaction to the Jordanian court ruling and whether the US government would review its extradition treaty with Jordan or renew its demand for extradition. “As a matter of policy, the Department [of Justice] generally does not comment on extradition-related matters,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the US Justice Department wrote in an email to Al Jazeera.

As a result of Jordan’s Supreme Court decision, Tamimi is no longer wanted by the Interpol in Jordan. She is still, however, a wanted person internationally by Interpol and could face arrest should she travel outside Jordan.

Tamimi was a 20-year-old college student when she was arrested in Israel and pleaded guilty during her trial. She was sentenced in 2003 to 16 life terms in prison for her role in the bombing. She said that after her arrest, she was held for 43 days, during which was subjected to physical and psychological torture. 

“I was subjected to cruel treatment by Israeli jailers, and was never allowed to even have proper hygiene or make contact with family or have access to a lawyer,” she said.

READ MORE: Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi on FBI’s Most Wanted list

After spending 10 years in Israeli jails, during which she was rarely allowed to talk to her family, Tamimi was freed from prison in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

She said she was in utter shock that the US government decided to go after her, insisting that she committed no crimes against the US government or on US soil, or that she tried to kill US citizens intentionally.

Tamimi said she witnessed many of her friends and fellow students killed in “cold blood” by the Israeli army.

In 2000, the Palestinian occupied territories were engulfed in a bloody uprising called the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” against the Israeli occupation. Between the years 2000 and 2005, Israeli forces killed 3,136 Palestinians while 431 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.

“From a Palestinian, as well as international law perspective, it is perfectly legitimate to resist the Israeli occupation,” she said. “We only wanted freedom for our country, not to kill Israelis or others for the sake of killing.”

Since her release from Israeli jails, Tamimi said she has tried to put the past behind her and tries to have a normal life for and her husband. Soon after her release from jail, she got married to Nizar al-Tamimi, 44, a relative, who spent 19 years in Israeli jails for killing an Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank and was released at the same time as Ahlam.

“I would like the American people to look at the case against me as an unjust case and speak out to stand with me and the truth,” she said. “I want to lead a normal life, continue my education and raise a family. All l want now is for the US government to just leave me alone.” 

Source: Al Jazeera