herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Suspect in murder of Irish troops arrested in US

A LEBANESE man suspected of kidnapping and murdering two Irish peacekeeping soldiers more than three decades has been arrested in the United States.

Mahmoud Bazzi was detained in Michigan over immigration issues and faces possible deportation.

Mr Bazzi is the prime suspect in the murders of Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte Derek Smallhorne in the Lebanon in April 1980.

The only soldier to survive a kidnapping in Lebanon, John O'Mahony, said he was "overjoyed" to hear of Mr Bazzi's arrest.

He was shot in the stomach but survived.

On April 18, 1980, the three were part of a convoy that was stopped and taken prisoner by de-facto forces at the village of At-Tiri.

Mr O'Mahony's lasting memory of his comrade and friend Pte Barrett is of him crying as he wrote a letter to his wife, Emily.

As tensions ran high in Lebanon that April, Mahmoud Bazzi's brother had been killed in crossfire and he was calling for the lives of two Irishmen in return.

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On the day his comrades were killed, Mr O'Mahony said the Irish troops had been in a convoy when they were waved on at a checkpoint.

Five minutes later, they ground to a halt and heard shouting and gunmen pointing weapons at them.

Mr O'Mahony said they were taken to an abandoned schoolhouse and a man he recognised as Mr Bazzi then appeared wearing a black vest and was saying: "My brother, my brother, I'm looking for Irish."

"He pointed at me and said 'You Irish', but it was easy to pick us out anyway because of our uniforms so he picked out me, Derek and Tom and marched us out at gunpoint."

Halfway down a flight of stairs, he opened fire, hitting Mr O'Mahony.

He said he heard "two more quick bursts of automatic gunfire" as the other Irish soldiers were shot.

Mr O'Mahony was rescued and after undergoing an operation in hospital he inquired about his comrades, only to learn they were dead.

He says it is only alleged that Mr Bazzi shot them, but he is certain he was the gunman .

Defence Minister Simon Coveney said he hoped the arrest was the start of the process that would bring the alleged perpetrator to justice.

hnews@herald.ie

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