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Families cautiously optimistic after arrest of man alleged to have killed two Irish soldiers

“Growing up, we knew our Dad was tortured and murdered in the line of duty”.

GROWING UP WE  were always aware of the situation, we knew our Dad was tortured, murdered in the line of duty, his life senselessly snatched away.

Families and former colleagues of two murdered Irish soldiers have been reacting to news that the main suspect in the 34 year old unsolved case has been arrested in the United States.

In the aftermath of the killings in 1980,  South Lebanon Army (SLA) gunman Mahmoud Bazzi confessed to the murders of Privates Derek Smallhorne and Thomas Barrett, and the attempted murder of another Irish soldier Private John O’Mahony.

He was arrested in Detroit, where he was working as an ice-cream man, for immigration violations earlier this week. Irish authorities are liasing with US authorities over how the matter proceeds.

“Never gave up hope”

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Private O’Mahony who was shot in the attack said that he had never thought about quitting his struggle for justice, despite the 34 year wait.

protest 800 servicemen and women marching on the US embassy in Dublin earlier this month for the two slain soldiers

“I never gave up hope, I always kept plodding away. While we are alive there’s always hope something would come of it, and I’m happy that might finally be happening”

When we got the story out there in America, that was the key, it brought the message home to the American people. Steve Hindy (a former AP journalist kidnapped with the Irish soldiers and eventually released) was the key man, the story he wrote (in Vice magazine) at the start of the year, got the ball rolling. It made the Americans sit up and take notice of the terrible criminal they had been harbouring for decades.

“America as a country often preaches about freedom, well they can’t be preaching about it one minute and harbouring a war criminal the next one”.

Pte O’Mahony was shot and managed to escape the suspected revenge attack on Irish troops by the SLA on 18 April 1980, and says news of Bazzi’s arrest was welcome but long overdue.

I was taken aback by the news. We have waited 34 years for this but I hoped it would come at some stage. The Barrett and Smallhorne families have fought tooth and nail for the past 34 years so I am delighted for them, they have been through the mill.

Feeling he has been let down by successive governments, O’Mahony has urged Taoiseach Enda Kenny to stand up for the deceased families and stay true to his word. The Taoiseach recently visited Irish soldiers serving in the Lebanon and spoke about the murders, saying:

This is an unsolved murder and clearly there is a need for justice to be done and to be seen to be done.

“I hope the Taoiseach will follow up on what he said in the Lebanon a few weeks ago and send someone to the US to oversee and make sure Bazzi is not deported to a safe haven. He should answer for his war crimes. Successive Governments haven’t done much for us in 34 years it is time now to stand up and be counted”.

“We, as a family, wouldn’t wish that on anybody”

Pte O’Mahony’s sentiments were echoed by the late Pte Thomas Barrett’s daughter Karen, who has welcomed the news but is remaining cautious. Both Karen and Pte O’Mahony made impassioned pleas for justice on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland and the Six One News respectively, yesterday.

protest 2 Service men and women march in Dublin on 5 July for a resolution to the case. Source: Cormac Dowling

Karen was 6 years old when her father was abducted tortured and murdered at the hands of the SLA. She has spent 34 years knowing that her father’s last moments were spent in agony.

“Growing up we were always aware of the situation, we knew our Dad was tortured, murdered in the line of duty, his life senselessly snatched away. We, as a family, wouldn’t wish that on anybody. We just want justice and hopefully we are one step closer now,” she said.

Although I am delighted; I will remain realistic. Bazzi is held on documentation issues. We hope the whole thing is not held up with red tape and that Bazzi will finally be brought to task in a court of law.
We do not want Bazzi deported to a safe haven, we are looking for Bazzi to be brought to court and to be made accountable for his actions.

After a long running and often isolating battle for justice the Barrett and Smallhorne families’ quest still burns strong.

Accountability

“There was a lot of disbelief in the family especially from my mother. She was just 29 when her husband was snatched from us. She doesn’t want to go to her own grave before seeing justice served.”

“We want Bazzi to be held accountable for what he did to my Dad. We deserve this justice; my Dad and Derek Smallhorne deserve this justice.”

The Trojan work done by the Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett group was singled out by both Pte O’Mahony and Karen Barrett as having a ‘major’ and ‘immense’ impact in bringing the case to the top of the agenda in the US.

Help from the US 

One of the stand out figures from the group, retired ESB worker Robbie Masterson who served alongside Pte’s Barrett and Smallhorne in the Lebanon, explained how after 34 years they finally forced American authorities to act.

“The fact that Jim Schaefer and Brian Kauffman (three-time Emmy winning video journalist), both pre-eminent US journalists based in Detroit became involved, helped sway the debate in our favour,” said Masterson.

We pointed out to them and the American authorities that it was their own law that Bazzi was breaking having entered the US on falsified papers, they had to act on their own immigration breach.

Masterson and the working group have been steadily building momentum behind their campaign, including organising two silent vigils, the most recent of which on 5 July attracted over 800 former servicemen and women at the US embassy in Dublin.

unnamed Private John O'Mahony with members of Private Barrett's family, including his wife Emily and their daughters Paula, Karen and Janice. Source: Cormac Dowling

He admits that the main goal of the group at the start of the year, namely seeing Bazzi arrested, has now been accomplished.

We now find ourselves in an unprecedented position and we are trying not to prejudge or pre-empt anything.
Credit is due to members of the campaign who marched to the American embassy, including American Vets and French Foreign Legion vets, [which] sent a very strong message to the US, and to their credit they appear to have listened.”
A special word of thanks to newly selected Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe who always listened and engaged fairly and openly with us all along.

Steve Hindy the former journalist who was captured with the slain Irish soldiers and who recently helped highlight the case in the US, embraced the news:

“I am pleased to see the US government is finally moving to bring Bazzi to justice for this heinous crime against two innocent Irish UN peacekeepers and their families.”

Read: Irish and US authorities ‘in touch’ about man who claimed he killed Irish soldiers > 

Read: Hello soldiers: Taoiseach to meet the troops serving in Lebanon > 

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About the author:

Cormac Dowling

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