U.S. authorities have added a Jordanian woman to the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists and unsealed charges against her in a 2001 suicide bombing attack at a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria that killed 15 people, including two Americans.
A U.S. official indicated that the Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed a July 2013 complaint against Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, also known as “Khalti” and “Halati,” because law enforcement officials no longer thought that keeping it secret would aid U.S. efforts to obtain her custody.
Al-Tamimi pleaded guilty in Israel in 2003 and was sentenced to 16 life terms for assisting the bomber in the Aug. 9, 2001, attack on a Sbarro restaurant, according to charging documents.
Among the 15 dead were Judith Shoshana Greenbaum, a pregnant 31-year-old from New Jersey, and Malka Roth, a 15-year-old Israeli who also had dual U.S.-Australian citizenship. Four U.S. citizens were among more than 120 injured.
A former student working part time as a television journalist, Al-Tamimi met with and drove the bomber to the target after pledging to carry out attacks on behalf of the military wing of the Palestinian organization Hamas, according to an FBI affidavit included with the complaint.
Al-Tamimi served eight years before being released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, and returned to Jordan, which forbids extradition of its nationals, Justice Department officials said.
Al-Tamimi’s release was controversial, as was the exchange of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a single Israeli soldier. In interviews from prison, Al-Tamimi described driving the bomber and then going on Palestinian television to announce the news of the attack.
In 2012, then-Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and 50 other members of Congress backed by relatives of terrorism victims and pro-Israel groups called on the Justice Department to prosecute Al-Tamimi and others.
In a statement announcing the case Tuesday with U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District and FBI Washington Field Office Director Andrew Vale, acting U.S. assistant attorney general for national security Mary B. McCord said, “The charges unsealed today serve as a reminder that when terrorists target Americans anywhere in the world, we will never forget — and we will continue to seek to ensure that they are held accountable.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to explain the timing of the action, a U.S. official added: “We seek a court order to seal charges whenever we, in consultation with our law enforcement partners, believe that keeping the charges sealed will assist in our efforts to obtain custody of the defendant. When we and our law enforcement partners no longer believe that keeping the charges sealed will aid in those efforts, we unseal the charges.”
The Justice Department said it will continue working with foreign partners to gain custody of Al-Tamimi.