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By Elizabeth Samson

2001 was brutal and heartbreaking for American victims of terrorism, both at home and abroad. While September 11, 2001, has been recognized as the turning point for the United States government to aggressively tackle that global monster, two prior attacks had already struck very close to home for Americans and were the impetus for major congressional action intended to protect U.S. citizens wherever they are in world.

This coming Wednesday marks 21 years since the tragic event known as the Sbarro Massacre.  Located on the corner of Jerusalem’s King George Street and Jaffa Road, the Sbarro pizzeria was filled with families when it was attacked on August 9, 2001, by Palestinian terrorists at 2:00pm. 15 lives were barbarically taken and 130 were wounded. Of the lives lost, two were U.S. citizens – 31-year-old Judith Shoshana Greenbaum, from Passaic, NJ, who was five months pregnant when she was murdered, and 15-year-old Malki Roth, whose mother was from Queens, NY. Another U.S. citizen, New York-born Chana Nachenberg remains hospitalized in a permanent vegetative state.

The suicide bomber who entered Sbarro, Izz al-Masri, died in the attack, and his facilitator who brought him to the location, Ahlam Tamimi, disguised herself as a religious Jew and specifically selected the Sbarro pizzeria because it was normally “filled with young Jewish families.” Tamimi, along with 1,026 other Hamas terrorists was shockingly released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, despite receiving 16 life sentences plus 15 years imprisonment by Israel’s court.  She is still alive and actively spewing hate in Jordan to this day. Jordan has refused all requests, including from many members of Congress who were motivated by conversations with the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), to extradite Tamimi to the U.S. to stand trial for her role in the murder of Americans, in accordance with the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, which requires the prosecution and punishment in U.S. courts of individuals who murder or maim U.S. citizens in acts of international terrorism.

Frimet and Arnold Roth, Malki’s parents, have dedicated their lives to honoring her memory and pursuing justice on her behalf. The Roths have requested an audience with President Joe Biden, asking him to invoke the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act and to serve American justice on Malki’s killer by forcing our ally Jordan to extradite Tamimi to the U.S.

Several months before the Sbarro Massacre, on May 8, 2001, the brutal murder of 13-year-old U.S. citizen Yaakov “Koby” Mandell and his best friend Yosef Ishran outside the West Bank town of Tekoa, Gush Etzion, spurred members of Congress to action. Koby’s parents, Seth and Sherri Mandell, natives of Silver Spring, MD, are respectively a rabbi and writer who moved their family to Israel in 1996 to live in the ancestral Jewish homeland. The murder of their son prompted them to bring their intellectual resources to bear on Capitol Hill. Spearheaded by Sarah Stern, Founder and President of EMET and close friend of the Mandells, the Koby Mandell Act was introduced to Congress and signed into law in December 2004. The Act established within the Department of Justice an Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OJVOT), mandated with the vital task of actively pursuing terrorists who murder Americans abroad.

The Sbarro Massacre, perpetrated three months after Koby’s murder almost to the day, underscored the urgency for American action, which set the stage for further legislative initiatives that would protect U.S. citizens, both in Israel and worldwide, but were also intended to thwart terrorism at the source. Terrorists thrive on zealotry, but they can’t operate without money and members of Congress were soon driven to take additional steps to prohibit transferring U.S. dollars to the pockets of terrorists and their families.

The 2018 Taylor Force Act ends American aid to the Palestinian Authority unless the PA ceases to pay stipends through their “Martyr’s Fund” to terrorists and their families, including those of deceased suicide bombers. The law is named for Taylor Force of Lubbock, Texas, a West Point graduate who was visiting Israel with a Vanderbilt University study program when a Palestinian terrorist killed him on March 8, 2016. Because the terrorist died during the attack, his family members were paid a stipend by the PA. After extensive advocacy by Taylor’s parents, Stuart and Robbi Force, and with the support of EMET, the Act, signed into law on March 23, 2018, is designed to prevent rewarding terrorists and their families for crimes committed against Americans – what has been dubbed “pay for slay.” In August 2018, the U.S. withheld more than $200 million of aid from the PA and ceased funding UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency – which has been accused time and again of being a conduit for terrorist activity and financing – a total cut of $300 million.

With laws on U.S. books to protect Americans and deliver justice, it seems like we are going in the right direction. Despite appearances, though, enforcement remains a problem. The OJVOT has been severely criticized for not taking initiative on behalf of victims and their families to prosecute Palestinian terrorists, Ahlam Tamimi remains at large and President Biden seems resistant to enforcing the Taylor Force Act – especially in light of his announcement prior to his July Middle East visit to restore $500 million in aid to the PA – a slap in the face to terror victims.

As the 21-year anniversary of the Sbarro Massacre draws near, the pain is as fresh today as at the moment of loss. Channeling grief into action, families and advocacy groups continue to keep the victims’ memory alive by fighting every day to hold the U.S. government and our allies accountable.

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Elizabeth Samson

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