O'Dea calls for trial in Lebanon of Irish troops' suspected killer

Wed, Feb 28, 2007, 00:00

LEBANON: Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea has urged his Lebanese counterpart to help bring to justice the chief suspect in the murder of two Irish soldiers in the country almost 27 years ago.

During talks in Beirut yesterday Mr O'Dea raised with Lebanese minister Elias Murr the possibility of the chief suspect being repatriated from the United States to Lebanon, where he could stand trial for the killings of the two Irish men and the abduction of a third soldier who survived the attack.

Ptes Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne were shot dead in 1980 at the village of At Tiri in south Lebanon after their United Nations convoy was stopped by armed members of a Lebanese militia.

A third man, Pte John O'Mahoney, was also abducted but managed to escape.

The killings were believed to be revenge attacks after Irish soldiers killed a Lebanese militia man in an exchange of fire.

Army authorities and the Department of Defence have identified the chief suspect for the murders as a Lebanese-born, naturalised US citizen now living in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Attorney General had advised a number of years ago that an international convention on the safety of UN personnel that came into force in 1999 did not apply retrospectively and provided no assistance in the prosecution of the chief suspect by Ireland.

However, after his talks with Mr Murr, Mr O'Dea said the United States could denaturalise the chief suspect and then deport him to Lebanon. If this were to happen, the Lebanese government would prosecute the suspects.

"I asked him if the government did get jurisdiction would the Lebanese government do all it could to bring the suspect to justice," Mr O'Dea said. Mr Murr had assured him his government would do all it could.

He had also promised Mr O'Dea that the investigation into the disappearance of Pte Kevin Joyce would continue. He is still reported as missing in action after his observation post came under attack near Dayr Ntar in south Lebanon on March 27th, 1981.

Mr O'Dea yesterday began a three-day tour of Lebanon, where today he will meet some of the 158 Irish troops taking part in the Unifil mission deployed after the resumption of hostilities last summer between Hizbullah and Israeli forces. Mr Murr and Mr O'Dea also discussed the current level of threat against the Unifil mission. Mr Murr said this threat came from terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and strongly associated with Syria.

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Jim Sreenan, who is part of the travelling party, said while the safety of his troops was paramount, the current threat in south Lebanon was low. Mr O'Dea stressed there was no specific firm intelligence over a planned attack.

"Unifil are reviewing security on a daily basis and their commanders are following the situation."