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Deported Detroit Ice Cream Seller 'Doesn’t Deserve To Be a US Citizen,' Says the Man He Abducted

Steve Hindy talks to VICE News about the man accused of abducting him, and killing two peacekeepers, during the Lebanese Civil War in 1980.

by Jordan Larson
Aug 14 2014, 8:40pm

South Lebanon Army founder Saad Haddad, left, with Steve Hindy, right. Photo courtesy of Steve Hindy.

In 1980, Steve Hindy — now the owner of Brooklyn Brewery — was working as an Associated Press reporter covering the Lebanese Civil War when the group he was with was abducted by South Lebanon Army militiamen. Hindy and two others were released, but two of the UN peacekeepers kidnapped with him were tortured and murdered in one of the most egregious acts of violence to have occurred during the war. 

Twenty years later, Hindy learned that the man who abducted him — and who boasted about killing the peacekeepers on television — was alive and well in Dearborn, Michigan where he'd been making a living driving an ice cream truck since 1994.

On Monday, 71-year-old Mahmoud Bazzi agreed to be deported back to Lebanon as a result of entering the country on someone else's passport. However, he still doesn't face any criminal charges, and it's unlikely he'll face them back in Lebanon. 

"It's a messy case," David Crowe, professor of legal history at Elon University School of Law and the author of War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice, told VICE News. "It could be a high-charged case that [Lebanon] would like to avoid, so there's no guarantee that if he went back to Lebanon they would even try him. They simply might say, look, he wasn't involved, even though he went on television after the shootings and said 'I did it.'"

Between Beirut and a hard place. Read more here.

VICE News caught up with Hindy to discuss being abducted, the long process that led to Bazzi's deportation, and the possibility of his kidnapper ever facing criminal charges for his alleged war crimes.

VICE News: How were you abducted during the Lebanese Civil War?
Steve Hindy: It was April 18, 1980, and the day before that the American ambassador John Gunther Dean called me and we met and he asked me if I would go to South Lebanon and accompany this mission that was going to resupply the observers on the Israeli-Lebanon border. I knew that there was a lot of tension between the Irish battalion of the peacekeeping force and the Israeli-supported militia on the border, and so it seemed like an important story. 

I met US Major Harry Klein and Major Patrick Vincent, a French officer, who were both working for the UN, and we headed off with three Irish truck drivers into the militia-controlled area to get to the border. We were abducted shortly after we entered the militia territory by gunmen who were led by a man who was very agitated. Eventually I understood he was referring to his brother, who had been killed in a clash between the militia and the UN a couple of weeks before.

They took us to a bombed-out elementary school near Bint Jabail in South Lebanon and demanded our nationalities. They took away the Irishmen and shot one of them, Private John O'Mahony, a couple of times. Klein and I carried him out and eventually got him on the helicopter — he was evacuated operated on, and survived. The lead gunmen took the other two Irishmen, Derek Smallhorne and Tom Barrett, away in this car, a Peugeot 404. They were found hours later, and they had been tortured and killed.

How did you learn Bazzi's identity?
I wrote about this [for the AP], of course, and it was a pretty big story for a couple of days. And then about a week later the guy who abducted us appeared on television and in the newspapers boasting about killing the Irishmen. I learned that his name was Mahmoud Bazzi. And then nothing happened and the story more or less died. It wasn't until the year 2000, 20 years later, that Irish television came to interview me here in Brooklyn and I was no longer a journalist, I was running Brooklyn Brewery, but they interviewed me. They also tracked down this Bazzi who, it turned out, was running an ice cream truck in Detroit.

So they accosted Mr. Bazzi in his front yard, and he pretended he didn't speak English, but they had a translator. He denied that he had killed the Irishmen and claimed that he had been set up by Saad Haddad, the leader of his militia, and had been coerced into claiming responsibility.

Was there any kind of response to this report?
After the Irish TV report, I was visited by investigators from the Justice Department, the special investigations division. These are the guys who were Nazi hunters. They told me they had run out of Nazis and they had a new brief from Congress to go after people who had committed terrorist acts abroad and are living in the US. So they asked me about the incident and I told them what I knew about Bazzi. They asked me if I'd be willing to testify to that, and I said yes, and they taped my testimony.

And then nothing happened. In 2006, I was in Washington, D.C. on brewery business, and I called the guy up at the Justice Department and went to see him. They asked me again about my story, I told them my story, and said: "Look, what's the deal? You guys have interviewed me, you've interviewed everyone connected with the incident, how come nothing's happening?" I said: "Is someone protecting this guy?" And they kinda looked around the table and smiled and said: "Well, you know we can't discuss the investigation."

Then, about a year ago, I got a call from a special agent from Homeland Security based in New York who wanted to come and see me. And I was... I won't say happy to see someone from Homeland Security, but I asked why, and he said "I'd like to tell you when I get to the brewery." So two guys showed up and they told me it's about this incident from 1980 and they said that Mr. Bazzi had applied for US citizenship. 

They told me that he had been given political asylum and had applied for citizenship. Homeland then determined he entered the US illegally, on a false passport, and dug up the story on the killings in Lebanon and asked if I'd be willing to testify against him. I said I would, but asked: "Can't you look at the testimony I gave before to special investigations?" They said: "Yeah, we've been in touch with them, and they said they lost all the material." So they showed me headshots of maybe three dozen Arab men and asked me if I could pick Bazzi out and, of course, I picked him out. They said they would probably need me to testify in a removal hearing and I agreed.

Then a few months passed, and I thought I bet nothing's gonna happen again here, so I'm gonna write a story about this just to get it on the record, because it's kind of unbelievable. So I wrote the piece for VICE in January, then that became a story in Ireland, and then Jim Schaefer from the Detroit Free Press got interested in the story. He actually went to Ireland for one of the protests that Irish veterans held. Detroit Free Press funded a really well-done video telling the story. Then Homeland agents arrested Mr. Bazzi a few days before the Free Press video was going to be posted. And that led to the deportation hearing on Monday, and Mr. Bazzi saying he's not going to contest the deportation order.

Would you say that media attention is the reason Bazzi was found out?
Yeah, I think the press focus on the story and the Irish protests clearly had some impact on getting the immigration people and Homeland Security people to move on this. You know, you're not surprised when the bureaucracy takes the easy way out, and I think that's what they've done. I really don't expect that anything will happen when he goes back to Lebanon. Lebanon's a very different place to what it was in 1980.

I don't know what'll happen in Lebanon, but he's 71 years old now. I kind of expect that he'll just go back there and live his life without any prosecution. Though I have heard that the Irish government might pursue Bazzi in Lebanon — they might ask the Lebanese government to charge him.

Being deported falls far short of actually being held accountable for his alleged crimes, but do you think this approaches some form of justice?
From my point of view, I think it was a terrible crime that happened to these two young Irishmen, both of whom had families and kids back home. And when [government agents] asked me if I'd get involved with this, I felt that I had no choice but to say yes. I couldn't turn my back on the whole thing, even though it happened 34 years ago.

I think it was good that the US recognized that this guy — there's pretty strong evidence that he was responsible for the deaths of the Irishmen — that he doesn't deserve to be a US citizen. I don't think there's much more the US could do in this situation; it's really up to Lebanon. And the Lebanese government is kind of paralyzed right now. I'd be very surprised if there's any aggressive action against Mr. Bazzi there.

You founded the Brooklyn Brewery in 1984, but did you continue doing journalism for a bit after this incident? Is this incident what prompted a career change?
No, this happened in 1980, and I continued for four more years in the Middle East. Back then the term PTSD did not exist. It was kind of like, okay, get to work.

Do you think that you had PTSD?
I don't know. There were many more scary moments than that in my years in the Middle East.

Decades After UN Peacekeepers' Murders, the Search for Justice Continues. Read more here.

Follow Jordan Larson on Twitter: @jalarsonist

united nations
middle east
Steve Hindy
mahmoud bazzi
Lebanese Civil War