Pte Seán Rooney: Chief suspect in Irish soldier’s death fails to show at military tribunal

Mohammad Ayyad charged with multiple offences relating to attack on Irish peacekeeping convoy last December

Defence Forces personnel outside Holy Family Church, Dundalk, Co Louth, following the funeral Mass for Pte Seán Rooney last December. Photograph: PA

The main suspect in the killing of Private Seán Rooney failed to attend a hearing at the military tribunal in Lebanon on Friday, citing medical reasons.

Mohammad Ayyad was charged with multiple offences relating to the lethal attack on a convoy of Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanese town of Al-Aqbiya last December.

Pte Seán Rooney (24), from Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, was killed in the attack.

A lawyer representing Mr Ayyad provided a one-page medical report, which they said was verified by the Lebanese hospital authority and ministry of health, to assistant military prosecutor Claude Ghanem.


The report which outlined the reasons for his hospitalisation was not read aloud in the Beirut court.

Brig Gen Khalil Ali Jaber, who presided over a five-judge bench, made the unusual request of asking Mr Ayyad’s lawyer if they had brought a photograph of the suspect in hospital. The lawyer responded that they had not brought one.

The military court then accepted the medical report and postponed the hearing until June 2024, which was viewed as an unduly long delay by a lawyer familiar with the military court.

A Department of Defence spokesperson said “it is disappointing that none of those indicted for Pte Seán Rooney’s killing appeared in court today, including the individual recently released on bail” and added that the Government “will continue to make strong representations to Lebanese authorities and with the United Nations”.

Friday’s hearing in Beirut was attended by Nuala O’Brien, Ireland’s Ambassador in Cairo who has responsibility for diplomatic relations with Lebanon; Georges Siam, Ireland’s honorary consul in Lebanon; and Joe Karam, a Lebanese lawyer who is monitoring the proceedings as a representative of the Irish Government.

A legal observer from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as Unifil, was also present to observe the proceedings.

None of the five Lebanese men charged concerning the deadly gun attack, which also left Trooper Shane Kearney with a serious head injury, are in custody.

Mr Ayyad was the sole suspect detained by the Lebanese authorities in the aftermath of the attack but was released on bail of 1.2 billion Lebanese pounds (approximately €12,300) last month, reportedly on health grounds, after spending almost a year in detention while the Lebanese investigation proceeded. The whereabouts of the four other accused, Hussein Salman, Ali Salman, Mustafa Salman and Ali Khalifeh, is unknown.

Lebanese military court adjourns first hearing into fatal attackOpens in new window ]

During his last hearing in August, Mr Ayyad was represented by more than 20 lawyers in a move that was viewed as a display of strength to the court. It remains unclear who provided the financing for this. Mr Ayyad is not believed to have been granted legal aid.

During the last hearing, Mr Ayyad admitted to firing a gun during the attack but denied an allegation made in the military court’s indictment that he was a member of the Shia militant group Hizbollah which dominates south Lebanon. Hizbollah is embroiled in fighting with Israeli forces which has so left more than 100 of the group’s militants dead along the Israel-Lebanon border. At this location, there are more than 300 Irish troops deployed as peacekeepers with Unifil.

In the Dáil on Thursday, Minister for Defence Micheál Martin said that the length of time the investigation is taking is “distressing” for Pte Rooney’s family. Earlier this year, the UN concluded an international investigation into the attack which a spokesperson for the Department of Defence has said will not be made public. Meanwhile, with the support of the Defence Forces, the Garda has almost completed an investigation to prepare a report for the coroner.

The anniversary of Pte Rooney’s death was marked on Thursday by Irish troops in south Lebanon with a silent dawn parade followed by a ceremony at the Tibnine memorial and a wreath-laying ceremony in Camp Shamrock. Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy said: “Our thoughts are with the family of Pte Seán Rooney who is still dearly missed by all his colleagues in Óglaigh na hÉireann. Seán’s passing is a stark reminder of risks our personnel face when they don the uniform.”

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