Tamimi was a journalism student at Birzeit University. Her brother Mohamed, speculates that her fluency in English and the fact that she did not wear a headscarf made her less suspicious to Israeli officials.
Tamimi originates from Nabi Salih. Ben Ehrenreich of The New York Times said that she was "much-loved in Nabi Saleh."
After driving and dropping off the suicide bomber at his target, she reported on the bombing on a Palestinian news channel.
Tamimi had placed an explosive device at a grocery store in Jerusalem in July 2001. The device exploded but did not cause damage.
Tamimi participated in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing, which caused 145 casualties, including 15 fatalities, half of them children. She was 20 years old at the time, and still in university.
On 9 August 2001, Tamimi escorted suicide bomber Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri (Arabic: عز الدين شهيل المصري) to the Sbarro restaurant. She used disguise techniques to deflect attention from herself and al-Masri, wearing a dress that made her appear more like a "Jewish tourist" than an Arab, and using language skills gained in her journalism studies. While al-Masri died in the attack as intended, Tamimi left the area before the detonation.
She then had a second role reporting on the attack in the press, in her part-time journalism job.
In an interview which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on 12 July 2012 (as translated by MEMRI), Tamimi described the reaction of other Palestinians immediately after the bombing:
After hearing an initial report that "three people were killed" in the bombing, Tamimi stated:
Frimet Roth, the mother of one of Tamimi's murder victims, has criticized Tamimi's release. She said when Tamimi was released along with hundreds of other Arab murderers in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, it felt as if her daughter was murdered all over again.
In subsequent interviews, Tamimi commented that she was not sorry for what she had done and does not recognize Israel’s existence. "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," she said. Reportedly, when she first learned from a journalist who was interviewing her in jail that she had murdered eight children, not just three as she had initially believed, she just smiled broadly and continued with the interview.
Following her release from prison (see below), Tamimi gave an interview with the Jordanian Ammon News website, which was later posted on YouTube (as translated by MEMRI):
I do not regret what happened. Absolutely not. This is the path. I dedicated myself to Jihad for the sake of God, and God granted me success. You know how many casualties there were [in the 2001 attack on the Sbarro pizzeria]. This was made possible by God. 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.
She has also expressed satisfaction at the sizable death count, including those of children, and previous disappointment when initial reports stated lower counts.
She was imprisoned for her role in the events, but was released in an October 2011 prisoner swap for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. At a military tribunal sitting at the Ofer military camp, Tamimi had received 16 consecutive life sentences and an additional 15 years in prison.
At the time of her release, Tamimi was engaged to her second cousin Nizar Tamimi. She moved to Jordan immediately after her release. Her arrival there was attended by hundreds of people, including relatives, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters and trade unionists and citizens. She later met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Cairo, Egypt.
Tamimi hosts a Jordanian talk show, Nasim Al-Ahrar ([Breeze of the Free]), on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Quds TV. The show deals with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Tamimi claimed in an interview with Al-Jazeera that Israel had asked the “Russian mafia” to kill her and other Palestinian prisoners who were released in the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange agreement, although she did not provide further details.
On July 15, 2013, the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges in the District of Columbia against Tamimi for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the U.S., resulting in death. The criminal complaint was unsealed on March 14, 2017. Jordanian courts ruled that Tamimi could not be extradited, as the Jordanian parliament hasn't ratified the extradition treaty with the United States yet.
Tamimi is the first Islamic terrorist from the Arab League to face criminal prosecution in the United States and marks a stark about-face from American foreign policy under previous administrations.