- Female Hamas terrorist who helped plan and carry out a deadly 2001 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem restaurant
Born in 1980, Ahlam Tamimi is a Jordanian national who was the first woman ever to be recruited by Izzadine el-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas. Under the auspices of this organization, Tamimi was intimately involved in the planning and execution of an August 9, 2001 suicide bombing of a Sbarro’s pizzeria in Jerusalem, an attack that was carried out by a 22-year-old male named Ezziddin Al-Masri. At the time of the Sbarro’s attack, which killed 15 people while wounding more than 120 others, Tamimi resided in Ramallah, was enrolled as a student at Birzeit University, and worked part-time as a broadcaster on Palestinian television.
Tamimi selected Sbarro’s as the site of the bombing specifically because it was an easy target — an unguarded location filled with Jewish patrons, including many children and young mothers. When it came time to put the plan into action on August 9, Tamimi personally escorted Al-Masri to the restaurant. So that they could pass inconspicuously as tourists, the pair were dressed as Westerners and spoke English. Inside the pizzeria, Tamimi helped the young jihadist situate himself in a location where his bomb — hidden inside a guitar case that was packed also with nails and screws — would be likely to cause maximum casualties. Tamimi then nonchalantly walked out of the restaurant, and moments later Al-Masri detonated his explosive. Among the murdered victims were eight children and a pregnant woman. Another female victim was left in a permanent coma.
After the carnage had taken place, Tamimi made her way to her television station and announced the attack on that afternoon’s news broadcast — careful to not mention her own role in the incident. But authorities eventually tracked down the young woman and arrested her on September 14, 2001; she was subsequently sentenced to 16 life terms in prison.
In a 2006 interview with an Israeli newspaper, the incarcerated Tamimi candidly expressed her feelings regarding the murderous attack she had helped carry out:
“Hamas has principles in connection with discussion with Israel. Hamas wants to reach accomplishments without giving up on Palestine. I’m not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence. Discussions will only take place after Israel recognizes that this is Islamic land. Despite the fact that I’m sentenced to 16 life sentences I know that we will become free from Israeli occupation and then I will also be free from the prison.”
During her time behind bars, Tamimi married her cousin Nizar, who was incarcerated in a separate prison. In October 2011, Tamimi was set free (along with Mohammad Daghlas, a fellow co-conspirator in the Sbarro bombing) as part of a deal in which more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were exchanged for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Upon her release, an ecstatic Tamimi declared: “It’s a brilliant move of the Hamas negotiators to include my name in the swap deal although the Israeli military Courts recommended not to include my name in any prisoners swap in the future.” In a subsequent television interview which she gave on October 19, 2011, Tamimi was asked whether she had developed any feelings of remorse for what she had done. She responded: “Of course I do not regret what happened. Absolutely not. This is the path. I dedicated myself to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and Allah granted me success. You know how many casualties there were [in the 2001 attack]? This was made possible by Allah. Do you want me to denounce what I did? That’s out of the question. I would do it again today, and in the same manner.”
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “[O]n one famous occasion, when [Tamimi] learned that she had enabled the killing of eight children at the Sbarro restaurant, and not three as she had previously thought, she turned to the camera wearing a broad grin of pride.”
When she returned to Jordan to resume her life as a free woman, Tamimi was greeted with a hero’s welcome by hundreds of supporters (including Muslim Brotherhood members) waving Palestinian flags and Hamas banners at the Amman airport. While Tamimi openly thanked the joyous crowd for its support, she was quick to point out that many more of her terrorist compatriots still remained incarcerated in Israeli jails and were even “more deserving” of freedom than she was. She later met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Cairo, Egypt.
In March 2012, Tamimi claimed, without evidence, that Israel, in a “filthy plot,” had asked the “Russian mafia” to kill her and some of the other Palestinian prisoners who had been released in the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange agreement.
In 2012 as well, Tamimi was hired to host of the Jordanian talk show Nasim Al-Ahrar (“Breeze of the Free”), on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Quds TV. The program focuses on Palestinian prisoners who are being held in Israeli jails.
On July 15, 2013, the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against Tamimi for having conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction in a deadly attack against U.S. nationals on foreign soil — a reference to the fact that in the August 2001 Sbarro attack, two of the dead and four of the wounded were Americans. The criminal complaint was unsealed on March 14, 2017. Jordanian courts ruled, however, that their constitution did not permit the extradition of Jordanian nationals.
In February 2018, the Trump administration announced that it was offering a $5 million reward for Tamimi’s capture.
Further Reading: “Voices of Palestine: Ahlam Tamimi,” (by Frank Crimi, 11-18-2011); “Fallout from Shalit Deal Continues to Divide Israelis” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7-11-2012); “Sbarro Terrorist: ‘Israel Hired Mafia to Kill Me’” (Jerusalem Post, 3-4-2012); “Female Terrorist Hosts Talk Show on Hamas TV” (Jerusalem Post, 3-1-2012); “Individual Charged in Connection With 2001 Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem That Resulted in Death of Americans” (U.S. Dept. Of Justice, 3-14-2017).