THE Irish Department of Defence has said it is aware of what it calls "officially unconfirmed reports" that a man convicted of murdering two Irish soldier and attempting to murder a third has been released from prison in Lebanon. All three members of the Irish Defence Forces were serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force.
RTÉ reports that ex-militia member Mahmoud Bazzi, 79, had served over eight-and-a-half years of a 15-year sentence. This included substantial time on remand in jail.
He was convicted in December 2020 of murdering Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett on South Lebanon. Private John O’Mahoney was subjected to a serious beating during which he sustained severe injuries. The three soldiers were on UN peacekeeping duties when their convoy was stopped by an Israeli-backed militia known as the De Facto Force, or DFF.
The three army privates were separated from other nationalities of UN personnel who had been travelling in a three-vehicle convoy.
The sentencing judges at the military tribunal in Beirut imposed a life sentence, but reduced the term of imprisonment to 15 years.
The families of the late Privates Smallhorne and Barrett were informed last week by the Irish Defence Forces HQ in Ireland aboutreports from Lebanon that Bazzi had been released from custody on July 31. They have sought further information, as has the campaign group Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett.
The Department of Defence told RTÉ it was "currently seeking further details on the matter".
It added: "In the meantime, the Defence Forces' Personnel Support Services are offering support to the families of Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte Derek Smallhorne, and continues to support Pte John O’Mahony, who was injured at the time."
Bazzi had originally been taken into custody in early 2015 after he was deported from the US to Lebanon.
Mahmoud Bazzi was tracked down to the US in 2000. It is not known how he managed to get from Lebanon to the US.
He continued to deny the crimes during his trial, which began in Beirut just months after he was deported from the US.
When Bazzi was found guilty of the murders of Privates Smallhorne and Barrett, his life sentence was reduced to 15 years because of his age.
Privates Smallhorne and Barrett were both married with three children and for more than 40 years, their families have campaigned for justice.
A total of 48 members of the Irish Defence Forces have died in Lebanon.