State papers: Killing of three Irish soldiers in Lebanon deliberate

Deaths in landmine explosion believed to be act of revenge for Lebanese explosives expert abducted by Israelis, documents show

An Irish Unifil patrol in action near At Tiri, a small village in south Lebanon. Photograph: Mark Kelleher

An Irish Unifil patrol in action near At Tiri, a small village in south Lebanon. Photograph: Mark Kelleher

 

Three Irish soldiers killed in a landmine explosion while serving with the UN in Lebanon were most likely deliberately targeted as an act of revenge, newly declassified files suggest.

Corporal Fintan Heneghan from Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, Private Mannix Armstrong from Sligo and Private Thomas Walsh from Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, were killed when the truck in which they were travelling detonated a landmine on March 21st, 1989.

Government files just released under the 30-year rule include a draft document for answering parliamentary questions on the deaths, near an old Unifil (United National Interim Force in Lebanon) position, on the outskirts of the village of Bra’shit in Lebanon.

The document notes that then minister for defence Michael J Noonan asked the Defence Forces chief of staff to visit Lebanon immediately afterwards and to work with the UN in their investigations.

It was not possible at that time to establish who was responsible for planting the landmine or who it was directed against.

However, the draft document notes a report from the chief of staff to Noonan suggests the “most plausible explanation was that the three Irish soldiers were deliberately targeted as an act of revenge by supporters of a known Lebanese explosives expert who had been abducted by the Israelis last December from within the Irish Battalion area”.

It was agreed that a number of increased security measures be introduced in the Irish zone, including a sweep for landmines, a newly installed bomb disposal team as well as improvements to the physical protection of the Irish Battalion headquarters.

Note of condolence

Adel Osseyran, then Lebanon’s defence minister, sent a note of condolence to Noonan through the Lebanese Embassy in London.

“I wish to express my most profound sadness and strongest condemnation of the aggressive act which resulted in the death of three Irish Unifil soldiers in Lebanon,” it reads.

“Whilst offering my sincerest condolences to you and the Irish people, I would like at the same time to affirm the deepest attachment of the Lebanese to these forces.

“We highly appreciate their presence on our soil, their efforts and the sacrifices they make. Please accept out utmost sympathies.”

In a postscript, General Ahmed El Hall, Lebanese ambassador to London, adds: “May I reiterate my own personal condolences over the tragic loss of life.”

A review published many years later in 2011 was highly critical of the circumstances involved in the deaths.

It found the device which killed the soldiers “should have or could have been detected before it detonated”.

The Army’s 64th Infantry Battalion served with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon from October 1988 to April 1989.