A Lebanese military court indicted five members of the Shia militant and political organisation Hizbullah on Thursday in relation to the attack on Irish peacekeepers in South Lebanon, which killed Private Seán Rooney and seriously injured Trooper Shane Kearney last December.
Mohammad Ayyad, who is currently in the custody of the Lebanese military, and four other defendants whose locations are currently unknown, were indicted on voluntary homicide and criminal conspiracy and will face a trial at the military court in Beirut, according to a military spokesperson.
Pte Rooney (24) from Dundalk, Co Louth, and Tpr Kearney (22), from Killeagh Co Cork, were serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) when the vehicle they were travelling in as part of an administrative run to Beirut Airport was targeted in a gun attack in Al-Aqbiya.
In an indictment report prepared by the military court, which was seen by news agency AFP, surveillance camera footage captured images of the UN vehicle carrying the Irish troops “under attack from all sides, by armed men” who were heard saying “we are from Hizbollah” and calling each other on walkie-talkies.
Pte Rooney died in the attack and Tpr Kearney was critically injured after shots were fired at their vehicle. The two other Irish soldiers on board the vehicle suffered minor injuries.
Following the attack, Trp Kearney was medically evacuated to Ireland. He was initially treated at Beaumont Hospital but has since been discharged.
On December 25th, Hizbullah, which dominates South Lebanon and the area surrounding Al-Aqbiya, handed over Mohammad Ayyad to the Lebanese army for questioning regarding his alleged involvement in the gun attack.
In January, the military court pressed charges against seven people involved in the attack on the Irish peacekeepers. The charges ranged from murder and attempted murder to destroying vehicles, according to a Lebanese military spokesperson.
The Lebanese military did not provide a comment to The Irish Times when asked for further details regarding the two individuals who were charged but not subsequently indicted on Thursday.
Under the Lebanese penal code, the five individuals, including Mohammad Ayyad, who have been indicted by the military court face offences punishable by the death penalty. However, Lebanon currently has an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty and no executions have been carried out since 2004, even though courts continue to hand down death sentences.
Farouk Mughrabi, a Lebanese attorney who regularly represents clients at the military court, says that individuals convicted of offences carrying the death penalty in practice receive a life sentence.
Meanwhile investigations by the UN and the Garda remain ongoing, according to Irish authorities.
Unifil has completed its initial investigated report and has passed its report to the Irish and Lebanese authorities.
However the report will not be publicly released. A Unifil spokesman said it “is not a public document and we cannot discuss the details of our investigation.”
Unifil spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told The Irish Times that the military court indictment was “one important step towards justice and we continue to urge accountability for all perpetrators involved. Attacks on men and women serving the cause of peace are serious crimes and can never be tolerated. We look forward to justice for Private Rooney, his injured colleagues, and their families”.
The report also formed the basis for a UN Board of Inquiry which was established to examine the attack.
According to the Irish Department of Defence, the board has completed its work but is yet to send its final findings to Dublin.
The Irish investigation is being led by An Garda Síochána, “who have primacy in this matter from an Irish perspective,” according to the Defence Forces.
Gardaí are tasked with preparing a file for an inquest hearing under the Coroners Act 1962, rather than a criminal investigation. They are being supported by Defence Forces personnel.
In a statement to The Irish Times, a spokesperson for the Department of Defence said: “we note reports that a number of individuals have been charged in Lebanon with the death of Private Seán Rooney. Given that the matter is before the Lebanese judicial system, we have no further comment at this time.”
Hizbollah did not respond to a request for comment from The Irish Times.