The Obama administration has not prosecuted a single Palestinian terrorist responsible for killing Americans abroad, despite a congressional mandate ordering the Justice Department to take action against these individuals, according to disclosures made by lawmakers on Tuesday.
Palestinian terrorists have murdered at least 64 Americans, including two unborn children, since 1993. Yet the U.S. government has failed to take legal action against those who committed the crimes, lawmakers disclosed during a Tuesday hearing on the Justice Department’s failure to live up to its mandate to bring these terrorists to justice.
Many of the terrorists continue to roam free across the Middle East, with one hosting a Hamas-affiliated television show in Jordan.
With criticism mounting from Congress and U.S. victims of terrorism, Justice Department officials say they are working to initiate cases, but warn that this could take "many years" to play out.
The Justice Department has repeatedly declined to comment when faced with questions from Congress about the lack of prosecutions, according to Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security.
The Justice Department "has not been able to cite one example for this committee of even a single terrorist who has been prosecuted in the U.S. for any of the 64 attacks against Americans in Israel," DeSantis said. "Indeed, many of these terrorists roam free as the result of prisoner exchanges or evasion."
"This is not what Congress intended" when it created the DOJ’s Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism in 2005, DeSantis added. "This is not what the American people want, and this does not provide justice to the victims’ families that has been so tragically elusive."
The Justice Department has sought to evade questions about its failure to prosecute known terrorists responsible for the murder of U.S. citizens.
This includes its failure to level charges against Ahlam Tamimi, the Palestinian woman responsible for blowing up a Jerusalem pizza shop in 2001. The attacks killed 15, including a pregnant American woman. Tamimi currently resides in Jordan and hosts a television show on the Hamas-owned Al Quds station.
"When the [oversight] committee questioned the DOJ about this case, the department declined to comment," DeSantis said. "If in fact bringing to justice the perpetrators of terrorism against Americans in Israel is a high priority for the DOJ, then surely people of this nature should be prosecuted for their crimes."
Justice Department officials who testified maintain that they are aggressively working behind the scenes to make cases against foreign terrorists who have killed and injured Americans.
Brad Wiegmann, the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s national security division, maintained that there are a number of "open investigations," though he declined to provide further information.
"While I cannot discuss these investigations today or the facts of specific cases, it’s important to note the absence of public charges associated with a particular overseas attack does not mean that there are no charges, or that no such charges will be brought," Weigmann said, noting that a prosecution could take place "many years" after an attack.
"I can certainly understand the frustration of some of the families that the Department of Justice has not prosecuted more cases involving terrorist attacks against Americans in Israel," Wiegmann said, noting that the Obama administration has pursued some cases against terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda and ISIS.
Yet most of "these cases do not involve any of the recent attacks within Israel," Weigmann admitted.
American victims of terrorist acts abroad who testified at the hearing offered sharp criticism of the Justice Department for failing to take on terrorists in the U.S. courts.
Sari Singer, who was injured in a 2003 Palestinian terror attack on a bus in Jerusalem, said that she has lost faith in the government.
"The government’s track record in extraditing or even seeking extradition of Palestinian terrorists who have murdered American citizens is nonexistent," Singer said. "I grew up believing that my country would be there for me and protect me no matter where I was in the world. These last years have left me feeling let down."
Peter Schwartz, whose nephew Ezra was shot in the head by a Palestinian terrorist in November 2015, said that the Obama administration has not been forthcoming about any potential investigations into the incident.
"We are not aware of what if any U.S. actions have been undertaken to investigate this case, and we still have many unanswered questions about the attack that claimed Ezra’s life and what role our government can play in answering them," Schwartz told the committee.
The Obama administration was criticized in August when it sought to limit the restitution American victims of terrorism could receive. The administration argued in a legal briefing issued to the court that a large cash award to these victims could complicate the administration’s efforts to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians.