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Sean Rooney

Hezbollah denies involvement in killing of Pte Seán Rooney in Lebanon

Five men were charged yesterday with the killing of Pte Rooney in the south of Lebanon, a stronghold of the Iran-backed group.

LEBANESE MILITANT GROUP Hezbollah has refuted accusations by a judge that it was behind last year’s killing of UN peacekeeper Seán Rooney, saying the powerful faction “had absolutely no relation to the incident”.

Five men were charged with the killing of Private Rooney in the south of Lebanon, a stronghold of the Iran-backed group.

The charges allege all five men are linked to Hezbollah.

It follows a six-month investigation into an attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the town of Al-Aqbiya in December.

The shooting resulted in the death of Private Sean Rooney, 24, of Newtown Cunningham, Ireland, and seriously wounded Trooper Shane Kearney, 22.

Trooper Kearney was medically evacuated to Ireland. Two other Irish soldiers sustained light injuries.

“We had nothing to do with the incident,” Hezbollah’s chief spokesman Mohammed Afif said.

He added that the investigative judge at the military tribunal, Fadi Sawwan, “is intentionally offending Hezbollah”.

A judicial official said yesterday that the charges include evidence from bystanders’ statements, as well as audio recordings and video footage from surveillance cameras.

In some of the recordings of the confrontation, the gunmen reportedly could be heard telling the peacekeepers that they are from Hezbollah.

One of the five charged, Mohamad Ayyad, is currently in custody of Lebanese authorities.

The four others facing charges, Ali Khalifeh, Ali Salman, Hussein Salman and Mustafa Salman, are at large.


Afif refused to say whether any of the charged men are Hezbollah members. He said Ayyad “was one of the residents who were there during the incident”.

He added that Hezbollah helped after the incident in “reducing tension through contacts” between the army and the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon known as UNIFIL.

He added that Hezbollah later co-ordinated between residents and the military judiciary to hand over Ayyad.

“The incident was not intentional and was not pre-meditated. Hezbollah had absolutely no relation to the incident,” Afif said.

Private Rooney and several other Irish soldiers with UNIFIL were on their way from their southern base to the Beirut airport. Two UN vehicles reportedly took a wrong turn through Al-Aqbiya, which is not part of the area under the peacekeepers’ mandate.

Initial reports said angry residents confronted the peacekeepers, but the charges conclude that the shooting was a targeted attack.

Step towards justice

UNIFIL spokeswoman Andrea Tenenti said yesterday that the charges were an “important step towards justice”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin also stressed today that it is very important that justice is done.

Speaking at the Bloom festival in Dublin today, Martin said he did not want to comment on the specifics of the case but emphasised that his government wants to see justice.

“It is very very important that justice is done here for the Rooney family and for all his colleagues,” he said.

“I think of the family on this occasion, it’s not easy for them to hear the news breaking in respect of the progress of the investigation. We do welcome progress in relation to the investigation.

“We have said and we have spoken to the Lebanese authorities, we want justice done here because peace keeping is the most noble thing a person can do in life and our peacekeepers represent our country exceptionally well overseas and in Lebanon for many many years. That is why it’s so important that there’s no toleration for what happened to Sean Rooney and his colleagues and that justice is met.”

UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after Israel’s 1978 invasion.

The UN expanded its mission following the 34-day 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, allowing peacekeepers to deploy along the Israeli border to help the Lebanese military extend its authority into the country’s south for the first time in decades.

Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon frequently accuse the UN mission of collusion with Israel, while Israel has accused the peacekeepers of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s military activities in southern Lebanon.

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