Five individuals have been officially charged by a military court in Lebanon with murdering an Irish UN peacekeeper in December, according to local media and news organisations.
According to rules, a top judicial official said that all five of them have ties to the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah while speaking on the condition of anonymity.
An attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the Hezbollah stronghold of al-Aqbiya in south Lebanon sparked a half-year investigation that led to the indictment. According to the Lebanese official, it contained testimony from onlookers as well as audio and video records from security cameras.
The gunmen apparently told the peacekeepers they were from Hezbollah in part of the videos of the altercation.
Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the killing, calling it a “unintentional incident” that included just UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, and the population of the town. Hezbollah kept silent on the matter on Thursday.
Seán Rooney was killed in the incident, while Shane Kearney was critically injured. The injured peacekeeper was flown to Ireland for medical treatment. Two further Irish soldiers suffered minor wounds.
Mohamad Ayyad, one of the five men charged, is being held by Lebanese law enforcement. Ali Khalifeh, Ali Salman, Hussein Salman, and Mustafa Salman, the remaining four defendants, are still at large.
According to reports, while travelling from the base in the south to the airport in Beirut, the UN peacekeeper vehicle made a mistake and turned into al-Aqbiya.
The peacekeepers were attempting to return to the main road when they were encircled by cars and armed men.
The prosecution states that the shooting was a targeted attack despite initial accounts claiming that irate citizens had surrounded the peacekeepers.
The indictment, according to UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti, is “an important step towards justice.”
Attacks on those who are working for peace are grave crimes that should never be accepted, Tenenti told the AP. “We anticipate that Private Rooney, his hurt coworkers, and their families will receive justice.”
Following Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978, UNIFIL was established to supervise the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Following the 2006 conflict between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah, the UN widened the scope of its mandate, allowing soldiers to be stationed along the Israeli border to assist the Lebanese military in reestablishing control over the south of the nation.
Supporters of Hezbollah in Lebanon frequently claim that the UN deployment is working with Israel, and Israel claims that the peacekeepers are ignoring Hezbollah’s military activity in southern Lebanon.