AMMAN, Jordan – A Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in a 1997 shooting rampage was released Sunday, after serving 20 years in prison.
King Hussein of Jordan in 1997 shakes the hand of members of the Badayev family in Beit Shemesh who are in mourning after their daughter Shiri was killed by a Jordanian soldier. (AP )Ahmed Daqamseh opened fire on the eighth graders while they were on a class trip to the scenic "Island of Peace" border post, killing seven girls and wounding seven others. A Jordanian court later deemed Daqamseh mentally unstable and sentenced him to life in prison, rather than imposing the death penalty.
Daqamseh arrived before dawn Sunday in his home village of Ibdir in northern Jordan. Amateur video posted online showed him being surrounded by singing and dancing men, some kissing him on the cheek.
Jordan had announced several days ago that Daqamseh would be released this week, after completing his term. In Jordan, life terms are not open-ended, and prisoners can be released after 20 years.
There was no immediate Israeli government reaction Sunday. In 2011, Israel had summoned Jordan's ambassador to express anger after the kingdom's then-justice minister called for Daqamseh's early release.
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.
After the shooting, Jordan's King Hussein — the late father of the current king, Abdullah II — rushed to Israel and paid condolence visits to the girls' families, a gesture that touched many Israelis at the time. The girls were from the town of Beit Shemesh in central Israel.
Fatihi recalled Hussein's condolence visit, saying he and his family had been sitting on the floor in mourning at the time and that the monarch knelt down next to them. "We told him we really appreciated his visit," Fatihi said.
Nurit, his wife, told The Associated Press her daughter was a "very happy" child who "took everything easily." She said she misses "her laughter, her smile, her joy of life."
"Despite the murder we are for peace," she said.
The 1997 attack came three years after Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty. The two countries cooperate closely on security matters, including in the battle against Islamic extremism, but the peace treaty remains widely unpopular in Jordan where many residents have Palestinian roots.