Sunday 16 June 2019

Lebanese suspect stands trial for murder of Irish peacekeepers

Mahmoud Bazzi, who had been living in the United States for the last 20 years
Mahmoud Bazzi, who had been living in the United States for the last 20 years

David Kearns

A Lebanese man has gone on trial for murder of two Irish peacekeepers in 1980.

Mahmoud Bazzi (71) appeared before a military court in Beirut today, accused of murdering Irish Army Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne more than 35 years ago.

The soldiers were killed while on patrol near the Israeli border in southern Lebanon.

A third Irish peacekeeper, John O’Mahony, was injured in the incident.

Read More: US arrest recalls Lebanon days for Scartaglin Soldier

At the time, it is alleged Mr Bazzi was a member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli-backed Christian militia that often clashed with the United Nations troops overseeing the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the country following their 1978 conflict with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Mr Bazzi originally claimed credit for killing Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne on Lebanese television but years later retracted the claim, saying he had been forced take responsibility for the deaths by his militia commander.

The 71-year-old was deported from the US to his native Lebanon in January after admitting he had entered the country 20 years ago illegally.

Read More: Suspect in murder of soldiers is arrested in Lebanon

Mahmoud Bazzi as he was led away to be deported from the United States
Mahmoud Bazzi as he was led away to be deported from the United States

The deportation order followed interviews with American war correspondent Steve Hindy and retired Irish soldier John O’Mahony, who both maintain Mr Bazzi abducted three Irish soldiers in war-torn Lebanon in 1980.

Both men identified the 71-year-old as the man who abducted them and five others, including Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne, in southern Lebanon in 1980.

On April 18, 1980, a convoy of three Irish soldiers, an American officer, a French officer and two journalists were intercepted by SLA militants.

Read More: Mahmoud Bazzi: Suspect of murdering two Irish soldiers in Lebanon arrested

Ten days before the abduction, Mr Bazzi's younger brother was killed in a skirmish with Irish and Dutch UN troops near the village of At Tiri.

Afterwards, the militia's radio station broadcast threats against Irish troops, with one particular Lebanese family demanding "blood for blood".

The group of seven was taken to a derelict schoolhouse before the Irish peacekeepers were separated.

As they were led away, one gunman (alleged to be Mr Bazzi) who had been shouting "my brother, my brother" opened fire, seriously wounding Private John O'Mahony.

Read More: Soldier to tell of friend's murder

His two Irish comrades, Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne were taken away in a car.

Their bodies were later found nearby and appeared to show signs of torture.

The US officer, Harry Klein, admitted in 2000 that the operation was not properly planned and should have been co-ordinated with militia leaders and the Israelis.

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