Irish UN soldiers Derek Smallhorne and Thomas Barrett, who were killed in Lebanon in 1980. Photo by Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett, Facebook
Mahmoud Bazzi, the Detroit ice cream truck driver who allegedly participated in the abduction and killing of two Irish UN peacekeeping soldiers in Lebanon 34 years ago, has been arrested and now faces a deportation hearing.
I was with the ill-fated UN patrol on April 18, 1980, when they were abducted by Bazzi and a group of militiamen from the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army. At the time, I was an Associated Press correspondent based in Beirut.
Bazzi told us he wanted to avenge the death of his younger brother, who had been killed in a clash between the Irish battalion of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon a couple of weeks prior.
He took the three Irish drivers in our convoy into an abandoned, bombed-out elementary school and shot one of them, Irish Private John O’Mahony, several times. An American UN officer and I carried O’Mahony to safety. Bazzi then left the scene with two other Irish soldiers, Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett.
The bodies of Smallhorne and Barrett were found hours later. They had been tortured and killed.
One year ago, I was contacted by Homeland Security agents at my business in Brooklyn: the Brooklyn Brewery. They told me Bazzi had applied for US citizenship. In the course of their investigation, they discovered that Bazzi had entered the US illegally, with a false passport. They also uncovered information about the slayings of the UN soldiers.
They asked if I would identify Bazzi at a deportation hearing. I said I would. On Tuesday, July 15, Homeland Security spokesman Khaalid Walls in Detroit announced that Bazzi had been arrested and would appear at a removal hearing next week.
I wrote a detailed story about the abduction and Homeland Security’s new interest in the Bazzi case last January for VICE magazine. The article prompted orderly protests by Irish Army veterans of peacekeeping duty in Lebanon. On July 5, several hundred veterans marched in Dublin, demanding the United States bring Bazzi to justice.
One of the leaders of the protest, former Irish Army soldier Robbie Masterson, who was posted in Lebanon in 1980, texted me last night: “Heard the news about Bazzi. Unbelievable, after 34 years. Thank you, and VICE.”
The VICE story prompted Irish Central, a US-based newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, the Irish radio station RTE, and other Irish media to investigate and report the incident, putting pressure on Homeland Security to do something.
In 2000, RTE did a one-hour TV special about the abductions and killings. The RTE reporter accosted Bazzi as he left his home for a day selling ice cream. He denied killing the Irishmen, in spite of Lebanese television footage showing him boasting of the murders 34 years ago. He claimed that the leader of his militia, rebel Lebanese Army Major Saad Haddad, had threatened to kill him if he did not confess publicly to the killings.
I interviewed O’Mahony, the Irishman who was shot by Bazzi, a few months ago. Like me, he identified Bazzi as the leader of the abduction team. O’Mahony also said Bazzi was the man who shot him on that day in 1980.
In a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press’s Jim Schaefer, Bazzi again denied killing the Irishmen, but he then admitted to being present during the abduction.
The Homeland Security official would not say what country might receive Bazzi if he is deported. He has been living in Dearborn, Michigan, with his family for 21 years. Some former members of Haddad’s militia have been given refuge in Israel. South Lebanon is now controlled by Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state. In 1980, Hezbollah did not exist.