Coveney welcomes US arrest of suspect in Irish soldiers’ murder

Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne shot dead in south Lebanon 34 years ago

Pte Thomas Barrett (L)and Pte Derek Smallhorne (R) were abducted and shot dead in 1980 in south Lebanon

Pte Thomas Barrett (L)and Pte Derek Smallhorne (R) were abducted and shot dead in 1980 in south Lebanon

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 15:48

The Minister for Defence has welcomed the arrest of a man suspected of being involved in the murder of two Irish soldiers in Lebanon 34 years ago in the United States

Simon Coveney hoped the arrest of Mahmoud Bazzi (71) was the start of a process to bring the alleged perpetrator of a “heinous crime” to justice and said the Government would do “everything possible” to pursue justice.

The ice cream seller originally from Lebanon, was arrested at his home in Dearborn, Michigan by US immigration officials yesterday where he faces possible deportation.

Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte Derek Smallhorne were abducted and shot dead in 1980 in south Lebanon after their UN peacekeeping convoy was stopped by armed members of a Lebanese militia.

A third soldier, John O’Mahoney, was shot and injured but survived. The killings were believed to be revenge attacks after Irish soldiers killed a Lebanese militia member in an exchange of fire.

According to reports in the US, Mr Bazzi’s arrest is connected to his entry into the country on a false passport from the Middle East 21 years ago. It is not clear if Bazzi will face charges associated with the killings of the two Irish soldiers in Lebanon.

“The United States Government is asserting that Mr Bazzi does not have legal status in the United States and should not be present in the United States,” Vincent Picard of US immigration told RTÉ Radio. The deaths of the two Irish soldiers “was part of the investigation” into Mr Bazzi, he said.

He said Mr Bazzi was being held in a detention centre and would go before a US immigration judge in the coming days. The court case will decide what happens next. However the US would be “seeking to effect his removal from the US based on the immigration violation charge for which he was arrested,” Mr Picard said.

Mr Coveney described it as a “first step” on what will “possibly be a further long and difficult road”. He and the Government would “ do everything possible to pursue justice” for the peacekeepers.

Mr Coveney said his officials were in touch with US authorities in relation to the matter and how it will proceed. “ I am awaiting a report in that regard,” he said.

All measures open to Irish authorities have been examined in detail. The country with primary jurisdiction on the case was Lebanon “in terms of pursuing a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator” he said. However he said”no finding” had yet been made in the case against the alleged perpetrator.