Minister praises former soldier as he returns to Lebanon to give evidence at murder trial

Accused: Mahmoud Bazzi
Accused: Mahmoud Bazzi

An ex-private who was seriously injured in attack that left two of his colleageus dead has given evidence at a military tribunal in Beirut today, earning praise from MInister for Defence Simon Coveney.

In June this year Mahmoud Bazzi was charged with the murder of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne and the attempted murder of Private John O’Mahony on 18 April 1980 while they were serving with UNIFIL in Lebanon.

On the 18th of April, 1980, Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne were murdered and Private John O’Mahony was seriously injured in an incident in Lebanon.

The personnel were serving as peacekeepers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

At the village of At-Tiri, a convoy, which included the three Irish soldiers, was stopped and all the personnel were taken prisoner by de-facto forces.

The Defence Forces personnel were disarmed and separated from the rest of the group. Private O’Mahony was shot and seriously injured while Privates Barrett and Smallhorne were murdered.  The alleged perpetrator was Mahmoud Bazzi who is now standing trial. 
Bazzi was returned to his native Lebanon on 30 January 2015, following his deportation from the United States. Lebanese authorities arrested Mahmoud Bazzi upon his arrival at Rafic Hariri International Airport, Beirut from Detroit on 30 January 2015. Mr Bazzi has remained in detention in Beirut since his arrest.

This morning, O'Mahony gave evidence at a military tribunal in Lebanon before he was cross examined by the defence. 

The trial was then adjourned until April 2016.

The Tribunal has indicated that it will call further witnesses in the case against the accused at that time.  

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney singled out Ex-Private John O’Mahony for his courage and dignity in providing evidence to the Tribunal. Ex-Private O’Mahony travelled from Ireland to give testimony against the accused. “I appreciate how difficult this was for John O’Mahony.  I am very grateful for his commitment and time in what must have been a daunting task today bringing back memories of a horrific event”. 

Minister Coveney went on to say: "For the families, I had hoped that the case would conclude today. I can only imagine the emotional toll the extended process is having on them. However, from the very preliminary reports I have received, I am satisfied that the case is being dealt with in a very thorough manner by the Lebanese authorities and we must recognize that this is a really important development in securing accountability for the atrocious crime that was committed against Irish Peacekeepers. 
“Today’s hearing is another step in the campaign for justice on behalf of the family, friends and former colleagues of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne who lost their lives tragically while on United Nations peacekeeping duty in Lebanon over 35 years ago. Our thoughts are with the families and friends at this difficult time.”