A military court Saturday convicted a Jordanian soldier of shooting and killing seven Israeli schoolgirls, pronouncing a sentence of life in prison while the gunman stood silently reading the Koran.
Outside the heavily guarded courtroom, weeping relatives of Cpl. Ahmed Daqamseh denounced the five judges who presided over the case, which fueled anti-Israel feeling across Jordan.
“They are tyrants, they are cowards, they are Jews,” cried Fatima Hawatmeh, the convicted man’s wife.
Daqamseh, 26, was charged with premeditated murder for killing seven Israeli schoolgirls and wounding seven others during their March 13 field trip to Jordan’s “Island of Peace” in the Jordan River. Daqamseh claimed the girls mocked him when he interrupted his duties to pray, enraging him.
The charge normally carries the death penalty. But the court ordered life at hard labor because it found the soldier mentally unstable, said Brig. Maamoun Khassawneh, who presided over the tribunal.
The court also convicted Daqamseh of plotting to kill Israelis since 1993, threatening to shoot his fellow soldiers the day of the attack, and disobeying army orders.
As part of the sentence, he was demoted to private and dismissed from the army, Khassawneh said.
Under Jordanian law, a life sentence is equivalent to 25 years in prison. The verdict cannot be appealed, but King Hussein has the power to reduce the sentence or cancel it.
Earlier, Hussein called the killing a heinous crime and said Daqamseh should have been shot on the spot.
A death sentence might have enraged Jordan’s predominantly Palestinian population, which has been sympathetic to Daqamseh. Some political parties have hailed Daqamseh as a hero and used his case to escalate their campaign against normalization with Israel.
“He should have been acquitted,” said Mohammed al-Adib, a Palestinian shopkeeper. “Israelis have killed scores of Palestinians and they received reduced prison terms” from Israeli courts.
In a sign of the public support for Daqamseh, 92 lawyers joined his defense team, many of them opponents to Jordanian-Israeli peacemaking.