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Private Séan Rooney
Sean Rooney

Five Hezbollah members accused of killing Private Séan Rooney

The 23 year old was killed during an attack last December.

LAST UPDATE | 1 Jun 2023

A LEBANESE JUDGE has accused five members of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group, only one of whom is in custody, of killing Irish peacekeeper Seán Rooney last December.

Private Rooney, 23, was killed and three others were injured on 14 December when their UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicle was attacked near the village of Al-Aqbiya, a Hezbollah stronghold in the south of the east Mediterranean country.

Fadi Sawan, the investigating judge in the military tribunal for the case, issued a 30-page indictment accusing five Hezbollah members of “forming a group of malefactors to commit a crime”, the official said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press.

Mohammad Ayyad, who has been in custody since Hezbollah handed him over to the army in December, is accused along with four other members of the group of “intentional homicide”, the official said.

Under Lebanese law, such crimes are punishable by death, he said, adding that Sawan had referred them to military court and shared the indictment with UNIFIL.

The indictment said footage from surveillance cameras near the scene of the incident “clearly shows the patrol being attacked by armed men from all sides”, the official said.

“Some of them could be heard saying ‘we are Hezbollah’ and using walkie-talkies to communicate,” he added, citing the document.

Hezbollah has repeatedly denied involvement in the incident, and its security chief Wafic Safa has described the killing as “unintentional”.

In January, Lebanon charged seven people, including Ayyad, with taking part in the attack.

Ayyad was charged at the time “with killing the Irish soldier and attempting to kill his three comrades by shooting them with a machine gun”, an official told AFP.

Lebanon had also charged six fugitives “for uttering threats with an illegal weapon, destroying the UNIFIL vehicle and intimidating its passengers”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said reports of the charges in Lebanon had been noted.

“Given that the matter is before the Lebanese judicial system, we have no further comment at this time,” the spokesperson said.

The Irish army said “it would be inappropriate” to comment since legal proceedings were underway.

UNIFIL, made up of some 10,000 peacekeepers, has been deployed since 1978 to act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel, countries which remain technically in a state of war.

There have been incidents in the past between Hezbollah supporters and UNIFIL patrols, but they have rarely escalated.

 – © AFP 2023