Lebanese military court charges seven over murder of UNIFIL peacekeeper

Only one of the suspects is in custody, while the other six are on the run.

 Lebanese army members stand near of what witnesses stated to be the UNIFIL vehicle that was carrying the Irish soldier who was killed on a U.N. peacekeeping Patrol, in Al-Aqbieh, south Lebanon December 15, 2022 (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
Lebanese army members stand near of what witnesses stated to be the UNIFIL vehicle that was carrying the Irish soldier who was killed on a U.N. peacekeeping Patrol, in Al-Aqbieh, south Lebanon December 15, 2022
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

Seven Lebanese citizens have been charged by a military tribunal in the murder of an Irish UNIFIL peacekeeper, Lebanese media reported on Thursday.

The Lebanese Army stated on Thursday that the basic investigations into the murder have been completed and that the case has been referred to the judiciary.

According to Lebanese media reports, only one of the suspects has been arrested, reportedly after being handed over to the authorities by Hezbollah, while the other six are on the run. The suspects are facing charges of murder, attempted murder, sabotaging a UNIFIL vehicle and making threats.

The arrested suspect, Mohammed Ayyad, has been charged with murder and attempted murder after firing on the peacekeepers with an assault rifle, according to AFP.

Irish UNIFIL peacekeeper Seán Rooney was shot and killed in early December after a convoy of armored UNIFIL vehicles came under small arms fire in Aaqbiyeh while traveling to Beirut. An additional Irish peacekeeper was critically injured in the attack.

 Members of UNIFIL peacekeepers carry the coffin of Irish soldier Sean Rooney who was killed on a U.N. peacekeeping Patrol, during a repatriation ceremony at Beirut international airport, in Beirut, Lebanon December 18, 2022. (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS) Members of UNIFIL peacekeepers carry the coffin of Irish soldier Sean Rooney who was killed on a U.N. peacekeeping Patrol, during a repatriation ceremony at Beirut international airport, in Beirut, Lebanon December 18, 2022. (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)

Video from the scene showed one of the UNIFIL vehicles driving around cars that had blocked the road as a number of gunshots were fired at the UNIFIL vehicle. Photos from the day after showed bullet holes in the windows of the UNIFIL vehicle.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV reported that the incident was preceded by a protest by local residents against the UNIFIL patrol which had taken a detour from its usual route.

Hezbollah distances itself from the murder

A Hezbollah official named Wafiq Safa told Reuters soon after the murder that it was an "unintentional incident" and asked that Hezbollah not be "inserted" into the incident.

Despite Hezbollah's statement, Lebanese media and officials questioned whether the incident was actually an accident and reiterated demands that Hezbollah be disarmed.

The Nidaa al-Watan newspaper reported that a Lebanese security report had found that 27 gunshots were fired from several directions, with the experts who wrote the report writing that this indicated that "the incident was not spontaneous, and no decision was taken by the concerned authorities in the region to control the situation immediately after the problem occurred.”

The newspaper added that Lebanese officials had contacted Hezbollah and warned the movement that "the issue has become embarrassing" and that an "appropriate way out” must be found quickly. According to the newspaper, during a conversation between a Hezbollah official and the commander of UNIFIL, the commander stated that "if you are not directly responsible for the incident, then you bear the responsibility of mobilizing the popular environment in the south against us."

Last month, an Irish team, including a detective superintendent and a detective inspector from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation as well as a detective sergeant from the Garda Technical Bureau, arrived in Lebanon to investigate the attack.