On RTÉ News last night (Friday), Washington correspondent Caitriona Perry reported on the deportation from the United States to his native Lebanon of 71 year-old Mahmoud Bazzi. He is suspected of murdering two Irish soldiers on UN duty in 1980, Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett, although he has denied any involvement. Last year a campaign group was set up by family members and former members of the defence forces, some of them veterans of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), who had served alongside the two men from the 46th Infantry Battalion.
Private Smallhorne (31) was from Bluebell in Dublin and served with the 5th Inf Bn Collins Barracks in Dublin. Private Barrett (29) was from Cork and served with the 4th Inf Bn Collins Barracks in Cork. The campaign group website has the following background about the incident:
April 6th – 18th 1980
By April 1980 the 46 Inf Bn was coming to the end of its six month tour in South Lebanon. April however would prove to be a testing time for the battalion. From April 6-12th Irish troops withstood an attack at At-Tiri by the Lebanese De Facto Forces (DFF), the so-called South Lebanon Army (SLA). The DFF were a Christian-Shi’a militia under the leadership of Major Saad Haddad. The village controlled the only road leading north onto what was known as Hill 880. From this hill the surrounding villages and the fertile Tibnin Valley could be dominated by direct fire. Due to the strategic location of At-Tiri the DFF attempted to secure the area on several occasions. During the engagement of April 6-12th one Irish peacekeeper, one Fijian peacekeeper and one DFF militiaman were killed. For the loss of their ‘brother’, DFF Major Haddad pronounced that he wanted $10,000 or two Irish bodies. The engagement became known as the Battle of At-Tiri.
Following the Battle of At-Tiri OGL negotiations secured the safe withdrawal and passage of Irish personnel from Observation Post (OP) Ras; located just outside the village of Maroun Al-Ras. On April 18th Pte Derek Smallhorne (31) a father of three, Pte Thomas Barrett (29), also a father of three and Pte John O’Mahony (28) were tasked to drive a three vehicle convoy from Tibnin to OP Ras and withdraw the Irish OP. Accompanying them were two UN Observer Group Lebanon officers, US Major Harry Klein and French Captain Patrick Vincent. Also accompanying the convoy to write about the event was photographer Zaven Vartan and US press reporter Steve Hindy.
On the outskirts of Bint Jbeil village DFF gunmen stopped the convoy and ordered everyone out. The gunmen disarmed the three Irish drivers and confiscated Zaven’s camera bag. The vehicles were commandeered and all were escorted by the gunmen to an abandoned school.
At the school all seven were questioned about their nationalities. After some time Mahmoud Bazzi allegedly entered wearing a black t-shirt indicating he was in mourning for a brother who had been killed during the recent clash with the Irish battalion at At-Tiri. It’s claimed that Bazzi along with two gunmen ordered the three Irish peacekeepers down a corridor disappearing into a room at the end. Shortly afterwards shots were fired. The OGL officers and the journalist Steve Hindy then saw Private John O’Mahony staggering from the room; it quickly became apparent to the OGL officers and the journalists that he had been badly wounded. At the same time Privates Smallhorne and Barrett bolted from the room into the yard where they were recaptured.
As this was going on, a vehicle pulled up outside carrying several of Haddad’s lieutenants known to the OGL officers. They ordered the OGL officers and the journalists to take the wounded Pte John O’Mahony; however they refused to give up Pte Derek Smallhorne and Pte Thomas Barrett. The last that was seen of the two peacekeepers was as they were driven off apparently by Mahmoud Bazzi and two gunmen. The OGL officers and the journalists raced Pte John O’Mahony back to Tibnin were he was then flown to the UNIFIL hospital in Naquora. Not long after it was announced that the bodies of Pte Derek Smallhorne and Thomas Barrett had been found near Bint Jbail. They had been tortured and executed.
April 18th 1980 to today
Mahmoud Bazzi is believed to have boasted of the incident in the Lebanese press. News reports at the time quoted Haddad as saying, “They took the two Irishmen and took their revenge. That is custom in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon.”
It is known that Mahmoud Bazzi entered the United States shortly after April 18th 1980, being given asylum and a Green Card. He settled in Detroit, Michigan working as an ice-cream man. Two decades later RTÉ Prime Time conducted a special report on the abduction and killing of the Irish peacekeepers. Travelling to the United States they tracked down Mahmoud Bazzi. He denied any involvement in the killings. He claimed that he was the fall guy and blamed Haddad for the Irishmen’s deaths.
In 2005 the then Irish Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea TD, reopened the investigation into the deaths of Pte Derek Smallhorne, Pte Thomas Barrett and the wounding of Pte John O’Mahony. The reopening of the investigation led to a United States Dept of Justice investigation into the status of Mahmoud Bazzi living in Detroit, Michigan. Steve Hindy gave two depositions to officials, one in New York and the second in Washington D.C. John O Mahony was also interviewed by US officials. No action was taken against Bazzi on foot of this investigation.
As a result of Mahmoud Bazzi applying for United States citizenship last year 2013 a new investigation was launched by the United States Department of Homeland Security (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) which found alleged immigration irregularities and possible illegal entry by Mahmoud Bazzi into the United States. The deportation is the latest step in this story.
To raise awareness about the case, the Justice for Smallhorne & Barrett group held two dignified and well-organised protests last year. In April, a Silent Vigil took place at Government Buildings in Dublin, attended by in excess of 500 Irish Veterans. Another Silent Vigil Ceremony in which I participated was held by the group on the 5th of July 2014 outside the US Embassy in Ballsbridge. Irish defence forces veterans from IUNVA and ONE were joined on the day by United States American Legion Veterans, French Foreign Legion Veterans, as well as some Dutch and Nordic Veterans. For a report on the protest, you can find Diarmaid Fleming’s package for the This Week programme on Radio 1 on the RTÉ Player. There are also various video clips on youtube.