Lebanon attack | 

Hezbollah hands over main suspect in killing of Private Seán Rooney

Hezbollah reportedly stated he is not a member of the political and militia group, but is a “supporter”

Photos of Private Seán Rooney in the hearse at his funeral mass. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins© Colin Keegan

President Michael D Higgins was along the mourners at last week's funeral mass of Private Seán Rooney. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins© Colin Keegan

From left, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan pictured with other mourners at the funeral mass of Private Seán Rooney last week. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins© Colin Keegan

Robin Schiller and Gabija GataveckaiteIndependent.ie

A main suspect in the killing of Irish UN peacekeeper Private Seán Rooney is reportedly a blacksmith who was arrested after being handed over by Hezbollah.

Pte Rooney was shot dead when the vehicle he was driving came under fire in the village of Al-Aqbiya, south of Beirut.

The 24-year-old was a specialist driver in the United National Interim Forces in Lebanon (Unifil).

It has now been reported that a blacksmith, aged in his 30s, was the man arrested in relation to the killing of Pte Rooney.

Private Seán Rooney

Lebanese TV station Al-Jadeed has stated that the main suspect was handed over to investigators from the Lebanese Armed Forces on December 22.

He is described as being from the southern Aadloun region, with Hezbollah reportedly stating he is not a member of the political and militia group, but is a “supporter”.

A security official, who wished to remain anonymous because they are not authorised to speak to the media, told the AFP news agency: “The main shooter has been arrested by security forces after Hezbollah handed him over hours ago.

“Preliminary investigations are nearly complete.”

President Michael D Higgins was along the mourners at last week's funeral mass of Private Seán Rooney. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins© Colin Keegan

The group quickly distanced itself from any involvement in the attack and said it is cooperating with a Lebanese military intelligence investigation.

In response to queries about the reported arrest, the Defence Forces said: “There are three investigations currently ongoing into this incident. As these investigations are currently ongoing, the Defence Forces has no further comment to make at this time.”

A second soldier, Trooper Shane Kearney (23), from Killeagh, Co Cork, sustained critical injuries in the same attack, while two more peacekeepers suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Mr Kearney was flown home in a special medical evacuation aircraft from Beirut to Dublin last week and was transferred to Beaumont Hospital for ongoing medical treatment.

It had been reported in recent days that Lebanese officials had arrested several suspects in relation to the deadly attack.

Lebanese army intelligence sources confirmed the arrests, and said further suspects are being questioned, while searches are continuing for more people who are suspected of having knowledge about the attack.

Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK and Ireland, Rami Mortada, has also said the investigation is “going in a very promising direction”.

Mr Mortada said it is Lebanese policy to not comment on arrests until an investigation is concluded, but he confirmed that the case is being given the necessary resources and is being led by a top prosecutor.

Veterans salute Irish UN peacekeeper Private Seán Rooney gun carriage at his burial in Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal. Pic:Mark Condren

The UN has said it is heartened by the response of the Lebanese authorities.

In a statement yesterday, the UN declined to comment on the reports of an arrest.

A spokesperson said there is an “ongoing investigation into this tragic incident, therefore we can’t pre-empt its results and we need to protect the outcome of the investigation”.

They added: “This incident was deeply shocking, a crime against Unifil peacekeepers who have travelled from far to work in preserving stability in a volatile environment and to work in support of the local population.”

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he hopes to visit Irish troops stationed abroad, including in Lebanon, next year.

“On the issue in relation to travel abroad, I haven’t got any plans at the moment to travel to Mali, Lebanon or Syria, but I might be able to do that perhaps sometime next year,” he said.

“I did have a chance to meet with Private Rooney’s family and also Private Kearney’s family.

“I hope that can be done,” he said, when asked if it is a priority to visit troops abroad.

“My travel schedule is extremely busy, as you can imagine, I’ve kind of forgotten how many trips to Brussels, how many trips to the British/Irish Parliamentary Council as well, but it is something I’d certainly hope to fit in if I can.”

Newly installed Tánaiste Micheál Martin visited Irish peacekeeping troops in Lebanon in May of this year while Taoiseach. His visit was part of International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.

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