A military court in Lebanon has convicted a Lebanese man with a life sentence for murdering two Irish soldiers in south Lebanon, 40 years ago.
In a verdict issued on Monday night, the court announced that it had found ex-militia member Mahmoud Bazzi, who’s currently 76-years-old, guilty of the murders of Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne, two Irish soldiers who were part of the Unifil mission in Lebanon.
The verdict was handed down by a military tribunal sitting in Beirut on Monday and found Bazzi to also be guilty of attempting to murder another Irish soldier, John O’Mahony.
The court sentenced Bazzi to life in prison. However, the sentencing was immediately reduced to 15 years on the basis of his age.
Four decades ago, Bazzi murdered the two UNIFIL Irish peacekeepers to allegedly avenge his brother killed in a clash with Irish and Fijian forces.
The clash, which took place from April 6th to 12th of 1980, became known as the Battle of At Tiri, where Bazzi’s brother, aged 19, was killed along with two UNIFIL peacekeepers: Stephen Griffin, a 21-year-old Irish Private, and Sevati Sovonaivalu of the Fijian Army.
Bazzi went later to change his story of revenge, saying that he had been ordered by his commander to kill the men.
Bazzi was a member of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon militia group, SLA, formed to operate against Palestinian and Lebanese Shia forces during Israel’s 1978-2000 occupation of South Lebanon.
Following the Battle of At Tiri, on April 18th, 1980, Bazzi and other SLA members attacked a UNIFIL convoy and kidnapped the soldiers.
According to various reports from 1980, including The Independent’s and the RTE’s, they were “taken into a school building and held in a bathroom, where they were interrogated. The SLA men asked all of the captives their nationalities and singled out the three Irishmen.”
These were soldiers Thomas Barrett, Derek Smallhorne, and John O’Mahony.
An escape attempt occurred that led to the shooting of John O’Mahony by Bazzi, while Barrett and Smallhorne were taken away by their kidnappers in a car. Their bodies were found hours later, shot dead at point-blank range and showing signs of torture.
John O’Mahony survived three serious bullet wounds and was transported back to his homecountry.
“Bazzi was the prime suspect from day one, but officials weren’t able to locate him,” Ireland’s National Public Media Service stated.
In 2000, 20 years after the murders, a UN investigation found Bazzi living in Michigan in the US, working as an ice-cream truck driver.
Despite Bazzi’s whereabouts being known, it took another 15 years before he was arrested for immigration offenses and deported back to Lebanon.
Bazzi has been in custody since January 2015 and the trial ongoing for more than five years, leading to his conviction, in May 2018, of the charge of collaborating with Israel.
Yet, there was still no word until this week on any update regarding the long-standing charges of murder and attempted murder of the Irish peacekeepers.
The military tribunal recently reached a concrete conclusion, finding Bazzi guilty of murdering Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne, and attempting to murder John O’Mahony.
The news was communicated by the Irish Department of Defence to the wife and three children of Smallhorne in Dublin as well as the wife and three children of Barrett in Cork.
Retired Private John O’Mahony was informed of the news at his home in Co Kerry.
“I am thankful that this matter has been brought to a conclusion by the Lebanese Authorities and that a conviction has been obtained in the case,” Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney said in a statement.
“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,” he added.