A hero's welcome is being planned for the Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli school girls in 1997 and was released from prison on Sunday after serving a 20 year sentence.
Ahmad Daqamseh's tribe is planning on throwing him a massive party in his home village of Ibdir in northern Jordan. Locals from Daqamseh's tribe in Ibdir have welcomed him as a "hero soldier." Video was released Sunday of well-wishers cheering him on as his vehicle made its way to the village.
The governor of the province, Radwan al-Atum, has forbidden journalists from coming to Daqamseh's home to document the celebration. Security forces have closed off the entrance to the village.
Daqamseh, who was released Sunday morning, said in his first statement as free man, "I remain a soldier in the armed forces" of Jordan. His brother, Muhammed, read Daqamseh's statement, saying, "I entered jail as a soldier in the armed forces, and I see myself today, together with my children, as soldiers in the army.
Daqamseh's brother, who is serving as the family's spokesperson, said that upon arriving in the village, the convicted killer said, "I've waited 20 years for this moment, to hug my mother, my children my wife and my fellow tribesmen."
According to his family, "The soldier Daqamseh feels well and will soon welcome his visitors after the afternoon prayer," which was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Sunday.
In July 1997, a five-member Jordanian military tribunal found Corporal Daqamseh guilty of opening fire at a group of 80 seventh and eight grade schoolgirls from AMIT Fuerst School in Bet Shemesh and killing seven of them before soldiers seized him and rushed to help the victims.
The incident took place on March 13 of that year during a school field trip to the "Island of Peace," a joint Israeli-Jordanian tourist resort.
Daqamseh would have faced the death penalty but the tribunal said he was mentally unstable and was sentenced to a life sentence which is equivalent to 20 years under Jordanian law.
A few days after the incident, the late King Hussein personally apologized for the incident, traveling to Israel to visit and pay his respects to the families of the slain girls.
Daqamseh became a hero to a strong opposition movement led by Islamists and nationalists who vehemently opposed the country's peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
In 2011, then-Jordanian Justice Minister Hussein Mjali called Daqamseh a hero and said that "if a Jew murdered Arabs, they [the Israelis] would build him a statue." Mjali served as Daqamseh's defense attorney in the 1997 trial.Reuters contributed to this report.