OFFICIALS AT THE Department of Defence are “in touch” with the US authorities in relation to the detention of the alleged perpetrator of the murder of two Irish soldiers in the Lebanon in 1980.
Speaking today on the arrest of Mahmoud Bazzi, a Lebanese man who stood in front of Lebanese reporters in 1980 and claimed he had shot Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne, the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he welcomed his detention.
On the 18 April, 1980, Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne were murdered and one soldier, Private John O’Mahony was seriously injured in the incident.
The personnel were serving as peacekeepers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Special agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested Bazzi at his Dearborn, Michigan, residence for administrative immigration violations.
Coveney said he understands that he will be held in custody by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s pending removal proceedings.
I hope this is the start of a process to bring to justice the alleged perpetrator of what was a heinous crime, the torture and murder of two innocent Irish peacekeepers.
My officials are in touch with the US authorities in relation to the matter and how this process will proceed and I am awaiting a report in that regard.
He said the questions surrounding the measures open to the Irish authorities to bring the alleged perpetrator of this crime to justice “have been examined in detail in the Department of Defence in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)”.
“The country with primary jurisdiction in this case is Lebanon in terms of pursuing a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator,” said Coveney.
He said this matter has been continually pursued with both the US and Lebanese authorities over the years through all available channels.
“During his recent visit to Irish troops serving with UNIFIL in the Lebanon, the Taoiseach again raised the matter with the Lebanese authorities,” said Coveney.
Difficult day for the families
While the efforts of Irish and other State authorities to see justice done have been consistent and continuous, our thoughts today should be with the families of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne, whose efforts and those of their comrades have ensured that this issue was never forgotten and whose respectful actions and protest have touched us and helped in advancing their cause.
I know this is a difficult day for them and while they welcome the detention of Mahmoud Bazzi, I’m sure this re-ignites very difficult memories.
Coveney added that the Irish Government will do “everything possible” to pursue justice for both men who lost their lives in active duty. He said he will meet with the families in the coming days.