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Dublin: 17 °C Thursday 18 July, 2019
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Silent vigil for two Irish peacekeepers tortured and murdered in Lebanon

The families and friends of Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett are looking for their killer to be questioned about his past life – before he moved to the US, settled down and started working as an ice-cream man.

Image: Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett

A SILENT TROOP in civilian dress – some with UN blue berets and medals – will hold a vigil outside Government buildings this afternoon.

They will be paying their respects to Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett who died while serving with a United Nations peacekeeping unit 34 years ago to the day.

According to a group of soldiers and former colleagues, silence is something that the loved ones of the deceased have been met with far too often in their three-decade-long quest for answers. The man who has reportedly admitted his alleged involvement in the killing of the two soldiers, Mahmoud Bazzi, is living openly in Detroit and working as an ice-cream man.

On 18 April 1980, the UN Peacekeeping patrol was ambushed in south Lebanon. The kidnappers – the pro-Israeli militia grouping loyal to the Haddad – tortured and killed Private Smallhorne, 31, a father of three, and Private Barrett, 29, who had a baby daughter in Ireland. They tortured and shot a third Irishman, Private John O’Mahony. He survived.

Today’s wreath-laying ceremony at the National Monument in Merrion Square and the silent vigil has taken on extra significance, says ‘Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett’ spokesman Robbie Masterson.

The steady momentum building behind their campaign on both sides of the Atlantic, the presence of the surviving member of the surviving member of the attack, John O’Mahony, along with some of the Irish Defence Forces most distinguished officers will add to the atmosphere and may force the issue up the Department of Foreign affairs agenda, he says.

‘‘For the first time in 34 years we see an open door and we are just trying to force our way through it,’’. This open door that Robbie speaks of has given the ‘Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett’ group the belief for the first time that Bazzi may at the very least be forced to answer questions for what the then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey described as ‘wanton murder’.

Despite living uninterrupted in the States for over three decades Bazzi initiated proceedings to become a full American citizen sometime in 2013. As with all new applications for citizenship, a review of the applicant’s record by authorities is procedure. US Homeland officials began looking into Bazzi’s background and requested a meeting with Steve Hindy, a former Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press who happened to be with the Irishmen when the abduction occurred.

Hindy was kidnapped with the Irish soldiers and has identified Bazzi as the man who kidnapped them.

Private O’Mahony has also identified Bazzi as the man who shot him.

Hindy confirmed that Department of Homeland Security investigators contacted him last June with concern about Bazzi’s past and potential future presence in the States. They confirmed for the first time that that Bazzi had illegally entered the country.

This is the first time that American investigators have showed a will to bring Bazzi to task for his actions in the Lebanon, it is also the first time that Bazzi’s illegal entry to the US has been acknowledged by the authorities.

Steve Hindy is bewildered by the American handling of the case up until now:

“I think that the US authorities do not appreciate myself and others writing about the Bazzi case. The spotlight makes it more difficult for them to ignore the fact of Bazzi’s involvement in the kidnap and murder of the Irishmen, and the shooting of John O’Mahony.”

He alleges that Bazzi was – at the very least – involved in the murders:

Bazzi (…) did drive off with both men (Smallhorne and Barrett) and the two men did turn up hours later, tortured and executed. At the very least, Bazzi should answer for his complicity in the murders, and of course for shooting O’Mahony.

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The London Embassy of the United States subsequently contacted the surviving Irish soldier John O’Mahony asking him to meet them in September of 2013 to discuss Bazzi. Two days before O’Mahony was due to fly out, the London Embassy cancelled the meeting.

“So many things about this case don’t sit right” Robbie added. “I mean you hear about people being deported from America for far more trivial things.

Why at the very least have the American authorities not brought Bazzi before some sort of hearing to account for his actions?

“You would think that the murder of two UN Peacekeepers, the near fatal wounding of another and the kidnap of an American citizen (Hindy), would have forced the Americans to at least question Bazzi.”

This week Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary called strongly on the “US Homeland Security Department to act on this issue and ensure that the allegations against Mr Bazzi are fully tested in court”.

“The families of John Barrett and Derek Smallhorne deserve justice. They were international peacekeepers who were murdered whilst carrying out UN duty, hence a UN member such as the USA should not give succour to anyone who may have been involved in their murder.”

“It would be a victory to get him to a hearing” Robbie says, as he is only too aware that “if he (Bazzi) is granted citizenship it’s over”.

“The game will be up, and at the minute we don’t know how far along his application is.

“I mean what it really comes down to is this do the American people really want Bazzi wrapping himself in an American flag? I hope not and I think if the American public were aware of his past they would want nothing to do with him.”

Efforts to find out where the investigation on Bazzi is at by American journalists like such as IrishCentral.com’s Sheila Langan have thus far been fruitless.

The latest update came in January this year when Steve Hindy was told that agents in Detroit are now handling the case. He has been refused the names of these investigators. Hindy has confirmed to this week that he is considering filing a Freedom of Information request for information about the proceedings with Bazzi in the US.

Efforts to work with the Irish Government by the ‘Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett’ group are still being explored and the group have said they hope to start receiving answers by 4 July or they will be forced to up their efforts in their long overdue quest for justice.

A small number of the group met Minister for European Affairs Paschal Donohue yesterday afternoon, a session described as ‘a briefing exercise on the case and a request for assistance from the Irish Government which was very positively received”.

Efforts made in Lebanon ‘from time to time’ to find remains of Irish soldier, says Shatter 

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About the author:

Cormac Dowling

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