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Tragedy Simon Coveney welcomes murder conviction of man who killed two Irish soldiers in Lebanon

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Derek Smallhorne from Dublin was killed in the Lebanon

Derek Smallhorne from Dublin was killed in the Lebanon

Derek Smallhorne from Dublin was killed in the Lebanon

The Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney has welcomed the conviction by a Lebanese Military Tribunal of the perpetrator of the murder of two Irish soldiers in Lebanon in 1980. 

A former ice-cream seller has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne who were killed while on a peacekeeping mission over 40 years ago.

The soldiers were serving as peacekeepers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) when on April 18, 1980, at the village of At-Tiri, their convoy was stopped.

Both soldiers as well as Private John O’Mahony 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.

At the latest hearing of the trial of Mahmoud Bazzi (76) by a Lebanese Military Tribunal in Beirut Lebanon that has been ongoing since June 2015, Bazzi was convicted of the offences and sentenced to serve a life sentence in prison.

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Mahmoud Bazzi is on trial for the murders of Irish soldiers Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne

Mahmoud Bazzi is on trial for the murders of Irish soldiers Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne

Mahmoud Bazzi is on trial for the murders of Irish soldiers Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne

Due to Bazzi’s age, the sentence was reduced to 15 years. He has been in custody since January 2015 after being deported from the US.

Bazzi murdered the two Irish men in revenge for his brother who had been killed in a firefight with Irish and Fijian forces which became known as the battle of At Tiri. Irish man Pte Stephen Griffin and a Fijian were also killed in the engagement.

Following a UN investigation Bazzi was found in 2015 living in Michigan in the US and selling ice-cream. He was later deported to Lebanon over immigration offences where he was put on trial for the two men’s murder.

Bazzi committed the murders while a member of the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia, formed to operate against Palestinian and Lebanese Shia forces during Israel’s 1978-2000 occupation of Lebanese territory north of the border with Israel.

Bazzi later appeared on television and said he murdered the men to revenge for his brother’s death. However he later changed his story and said he had been ordered by his commander to kill the men.

“I hope this decision of the Military Tribunal will go some way to ease the suffering endured by the families by the loss of their loved ones,” Minister Coveney said.

“The Irish government has done everything possible to assist the Lebanese authorities with this case in recent years and I am delighted that, after four decades since the murder of the two peacekeepers, justice has now been done.”

Coveney said the families of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne have been updated on the outcome of the case.

The Minister commended Ex-Private John O’Mahony who suffered serious injuries in the same attack, for his courage and dignity in having faced Bazzi at the earlier stages of the tribunal process.

“I appreciate how difficult that was for him and the time he took out from his own life to get justice for his colleagues. The verdict will be a huge relief to him also.”

Members of the Irish government attended meetings with Lebanese government ministers and key officials in recent years to push for justice for the families involved.

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