One man is being questioned by Lebanese military authorities on suspicion of firing the shots which killed Irish Unifil peacekeeper Seán Rooney.
The suspect was handed over to Lebanese intelligence agents late last week by the armed group Hizbullah. It is understood he is a supporter of the group and that Hizbullah are co-operating with the investigation.
Investigators have also obtained an AK-47 style assault rifle suspected of being used in the attack
Pte Seán Rooney (23) was killed in the incident, the first fatal attack on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015. Trooper Shane Kearney was seriously injured and two other Irish soldiers received minor injuries.
Security sources in Lebanon said a number of people had already been arrested by Lebanese military investigators for questioning before being released. Investigators have also obtained CCTV footage of the moments leading up to the attack.
The handing over of the latest suspect may represent a major breakthrough in the investigation. However Irish security sources warned against reading too much into the development.
“Just because Hezbollah say this is the guy, doesn’t mean it’s true,” said one Defence Forces officer with experience of dealing with the group in south Lebanon. “There’s a huge appetite to reduce tensions and put a lid on this thing. This is one way of doing that.”
“I’d be waiting to see what direction this goes before getting too excited,” said a diplomatic source. “[Hizbullah] calls the shots down there.”
The suspect had been held by the militant group and political party for several days while his handover was negotiated with Lebanese authorities.
Separate investigations by Unifil and the Defence Forces are still ongoing. Asked about the latest development, a Defence Forces spokeswoman said declined to comment.
“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.”
The Department of Defence said it does not comment on ongoing investigations, as did Unifil.
A spokesman 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 said: “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.
“We have asked to find out what happened, and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“And we ask that people refrain from sharing harmful information because disinformation is the fuel on which the fire of violence can spark.
“We need swift and effective investigations to find those responsible and hold them accountable for their crimes.
“We are heartened by the support of the Lebanese authorities and leaders from across the political spectrum, and we are hopeful that we can get to the truth.”
Immediately after the attack Hizbullah officially denied involvement, calling the killing an “unintentional incident” that took place solely between the town’s residents and Unifil.
The groups second in command Sheikh Naim Qassem repeated the denial on Monday, saying that “what happened with the UNIFIL was a local incident that has nothing to do with politics, and doesn’t have any political objective.”
(Additional reporting – Reuters/PA)