Military court in Beirut holds first trial hearing into killing of Private Seán Rooney

Accused, who was represented in court by 20 lawyers, admits firing gun but denies being a member of Hizbullah

The military court in Beirut held a hearing on Wednesday concerning charges against five Lebanese men alleged to have been involved in a lethal gun attack last December on a convoy of Irish soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.

Mohammad Ayyad, the sole defendant in custody, appeared on Wednesday before a five-judge bench at the military court regarding his involvement in the gun attack in the Lebanese town of Al Aqbiyeh.

During the attack, Pte Seán Rooney, from Dundalk, Co Louth, was killed and his colleague Tpr Shane Kearney, from Killeagh, Co Cork, was seriously injured. The soldiers were part of a UN convoy on an administrative run to Beirut airport when the vehicle they were in took a wrong turn off the highway between South Lebanon and Beirut.

At the hearing, Mr Ayyad was questioned by the presiding judge and head of the military court, Brigadier General Khalil Ali Jaber. Mr Ayyad admitted to firing a gun during the deadly attack but denied being a member of Hizbullah, the militant and political Shia organisation that dominates South Lebanon. Gen Jaber scheduled the next trial hearing for December.


Mr Ayyad was represented by over 20 lawyers at the hearing, despite having only two lawyers at the previous hearing in July. The Irish Times understands that Mr Ayyad has not availed of legal aid. A source familiar with the military court said that they viewed the large legal team as a demonstration of strength to the military court judges.

The military court hearing was also attended by Emma Hickey, the deputy head of mission at Ireland’s embassy in Cairo, which has responsibility for diplomatic relations with Lebanon, and the Lebanese lawyer Joe Karam, who is representing the Irish government during the hearings. A legal observer from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as Unifil, was also present to observe the proceedings.

The four other Lebanese men accused of being involved in the attack, Hussein Salman, Ali Salman, Mustafa Salman and Ali Khalifeh, remain at large. An indictment report compiled earlier this year by the investigative military court judge Fadi Sawwan argued that the five accused are members of Hizbullah and its Shia political ally, the Amal Movement. Hizbullah has denied the claim.