Local media and news agencies reported that a military tribunal in Lebanon has officially charged five men with the murder of an Irish UN peacekeeper in December.
A high-ranking judicial official, who asked not to be named in accordance with regulations, claimed all five are connected with Lebanese group Hezbollah, The Associated Press news agency reported.
The Lebanese official said the charge came after a six-month investigation into an attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the town of al-Aqbiya in south Lebanon, a stronghold of Hezbollah. The evidence included witnesses’ statements, as well as audio recordings and video footage from security cameras.
In some of the recordings of the clash, the gunmen reportedly could be heard saying they are from Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has rejected any involvement in the murder, calling it an “accidental incident” that happened only between the town’s residents and UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Hezbollah did not comment on Thursday.
Seán Rooney was killed and Shane Kearney was seriously injured in the shooting. The injured peacekeeper was flown to Ireland for medical treatment. Two other Irish soldiers suffered minor injuries.
Mohamad Ayyad, one of the five men charged, is currently in the custody of Lebanese authorities. The other four men facing charges – Ali Khalifeh, Ali Salman, Hussein Salman, and Mustafa Salman – are on the run.
The UN peacekeeper vehicle reportedly made a wrong turn through al-Aqbiya on their way from the base in the south to the Beirut airport.
The peacekeepers were surrounded by vehicles and armed men as they tried to get back to the main road.
Initial reports said the residents were angry and confronted the peacekeepers, but the charge says that the shooting was a deliberate attack.