A Lebanese man suspected of kidnapping, torturing and killing two Irish United Nations peacekeepers in war-torn Lebanon in 1980 has been deported from the US over immigration offences.
Mahmoud Bazzi (71), a resident of Dearborn, Michigan, was ordered back to his home country in August after admitting that he entered the US more than 20 years ago with a false passport.
US immigration officials said in a statement that Mr Bazzi was deported to Lebanon on Thursday. He was transported on a commercial flight to Beirut from Detroit under escort by immigration enforcement officers and turned over to the Lebanese authorities.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Mr Bazzi admitted to an immigration court that he entered the US in 1994 without proper documents and provided false information to the US government that led to him being granted permanent residence.
Marlon Miller, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Detroit, said Mr Bazzi's deportation was "the culmination of a sophisticated and meticulous investigation."
US immigration and customs enforcement was "committed to ensuring the United States does not serve as a safe haven for individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts," he said.
Mr Bazzi was identified by eye-witnesses as the man who abducted seven members of a UN peacekeeping party in Lebanon in April 1980. Two members of the group, Irish army privates Tom Barrett and Derek Smallhorne, were kidnapped and later found tortured and murdered.
Steve Hindy, an American journalist covering the civil war in southern Lebanon at the time, and John O'Mahony, an Irish solider wounded in the attack, both named Mr Bazzi as their abductor.
Mr O'Mahony said the Lebanese man opened fire on him injuring him during the incident on April 18th, 1980. The Lebanese man was a member of a local militia group in south Lebanon which had clashed with UN troops assigned to maintain the peace between Israel to the south and Palestinians to the north.
Mr Bazzi, who leaves a wife and three daughters, all American citizens, in the US, worked as an ice cream man in Dearborn, a town known for its large Middle Eastern population, for many years.
He had been in held in a prison near the town since his arrest in July which followed a series of newspaper articles about his alleged involvement in the killing of the Irish soldiers.
He denied in interviews with the Detroit Free Press newspaper that he was involved in the killings of the soldiers, though he claimed credit in the days after their deaths on television in Lebanon as revenge for the death of his younger brother in a skirmish with Irish UN troops.
Responding to news of his deportation, Mr O’Mahony said: “I am delighted that they are after deporting him out of America. All we can do is wait and see what he might be charged with in the Lebanon.”
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney welcomed the deportation of Mr Bazzi by US immigration officials and his detention by the Lebanese authorities.
“I believe that this is a significant step in the pursuit of justice for Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne who lost their lives while on United Nations peacekeeping duty in Lebanon almost 35 years ago,” he said.
“It is an important day for the families and I wish to commend them for their continued commitment to securing justice for their loved ones.”
Mr Coveney said that it was a matter for the Lebanese authorities to investigate the killings of the two soldiers and that they had primary jurisdiction in pursuing a prosecution.
He assured the families of the two slain Irish soldiers that the Government would “provide whatever assistance possible to the Lebanese authorities in progressing this issue.”