A Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 was released after serving 20 years in prison.
Ahmed Daqamseh was given a rousing welcome in his home village in northern Jordan after being freed on Sunday. He expressed no remorse for the killings.
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Daqamseh was greeted by chanting supporters who kissed him on the cheek and raised a photo of him with the caption, “Welcome to the hero Daqamseh.”
The soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli students at the scenic “Island of Peace” border post in March 1997, killing seven and wounding seven, including a teacher.
“The release of this hero has cheered us. Israel has committed crimes against many Jordanians that were never accounted for,” said Saleh Armouti, a leading parliamentarian.
A Jordanian military court deemed Daqamseh mentally unstable and sentenced him to life in prison, rather than imposing the death penalty.
Jordan announced several days ago that Daqamseh would be released this week after completing his term. Prisoners can be released after serving 20 years of a life sentence in Jordan.
Israel’s government had no comment on Sunday.
Daqamseh’s motives were never entirely clear, but he told the national security court at the time that he fired his weapon at the schoolgirls after they mocked him while he was praying.
Jordan’s then-ruler King Hussein condemned the attack and later travelled to Israel to offer his condolences to the families of the murdered schoolgirls. Amman also paid compensation.
Yisrael Fatihi, whose 13-year-old daughter Sivan was killed in the attack, told Israel Radio on Sunday that he had been informed by the Israeli embassy in Jordan last week that Daqamseh’s release was imminent.
“It is unfortunate, but this is the situation,” Fatihi said of the Jordanian government’s decision.
Fatihi recalled King Hussein’s condolence visit, saying he and his family had been sitting on the floor in mourning at the time and the monarch knelt down next to them.
“We told him we really appreciated his visit,” Fatihi said.
Nurit, his wife, told AP news agency: “Despite the murder we are for peace.”
Following Daqamseh’s release, Jordanian security forces set up checkpoints along the access road to his village, preventing journalists from entering with cameras.
Daqamseh was hospitalised in 2014 after he went on a five-day hunger strike to demand his release.
His strike followed Jordanian politicians demanding he be freed after Israeli soldiers killed a Jordanian judge in a scuffle at the Allenby Bridge border crossing with the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Jordan in 2011 had to distance itself from a newly appointed minister’s remarks that Daqamseh was a “hero” after Israel summoned Jordan’s ambassador.