Lebanese officials have arrested several suspects in relation to the fatal shooting of Irish peacekeeper Private Seán Rooney, according to reports.
he Irish Daily Mail has reported that a Lebanese army intelligence source confirmed the arrests, and said further suspects are being questioned, while searches are continuing for more people who are suspected of having knowledge about the fatal attack.
Pte Rooney was killed when the UN armoured vehicle he was in was shot at in Al-Aqbiya in Southern Lebanon on Wednesday, December 14.
A second soldier, Trooper Shane Kearney (23), from Killeagh, Co Cork, sustained critical injuries in the attack, while two more peacekeepers suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Trooper Kearney was flown home by special medical evacuation aircraft from Beirut to Dublin this week and transferred to Beaumont Hospital for ongoing medical treatment.
“Yes we have a number of suspects and we are investigating the extent of their relationship with what happened. But for the needs of the investigation, the number of arrestees and other details cannot be disclosed, as the case is under supervision of the Lebanese judiciary,” the Lebanese army source told the newspaper.
It’s been reported by local media that investigators have pieced together a clear picture following the attack.
Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK and Ireland, Rami Mortada, told the Irish Times that the investigation is “going in a very promising direction” and it will not be “too long before we hear some good news”.
Mr Mortada said it’s Lebanese policy to not comment on arrests until an investigation is concluded, but he confirmed that the case is being given the necessary resources and it’s being led by a top prosecutor.
“I know from the executive side of government that there is a determination to deploy all resources so the investigation is as swift, firm and efficient as possible,” he said.
“He is the highest public prosecutor in our system and it’s being given the highest priority. I think it’s in good hands,” he added.
Mr Mortada said those responsible will be brought to justice, “whoever they are”, but argued that no Lebanese political groups have “the slightest interest in targeting Unifil and particularly in targeting Irish peacekeepers who are highly appreciated in Lebanon”.
“As tragic as it is, it’s a criminal act. Criminal acts unfortunately do happen. I don’t have the feeling that it reflects a larger reality or that it’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Mr Mortada attended Pte Rooney’s funeral on Friday morning. There he met members of Pte Rooney’s family and he assured them that, “Seán’s sacrifice would not be in vain and that everything will be done to unveil the whole truth”. He also met the Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and gave him the same assurance.
“[The attack is] no way reflective of the feelings of the Lebanese towards Irish peacekeepers”, the ambassador said. “You cannot imagine how many phone calls I got from ordinary people in Lebanon who were dismayed and really shocked by this heinous, heinous act,” he added.
The heartbroken mother of Pte Seán Rooney received a spontaneous round of applause when she described her son as a national hero at his funeral mass.
“I don’t have the words to express my love for him, or my pride as I look around at everybody here today for Seán, not just because of this, not because he is a national hero,” she said.
“He was the most beautiful baby, the most gorgeous wee boy, and the most handsome man you will ever meet, but that is a fraction of what was on the inside. I will love you forever son, and I cannot wait to be reunited with you in heaven.”
Meanwhile, in his Christmas message President Michael D Higgins thanked the members of the Irish Defence Forces for the work overseas.
“May I thank those members of our Defence Forces who will be overseas this Christmas building and supporting peace in many of the more than 60 regions across the world that are currently experiencing conflict, including conflict zones so near the homeland of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at this time, and where efforts and peace-making is in such short supply, where suffering and exclusion is deepening.
“May I assure the women and men of our Defence Forces that your sacrifices for peace are greatly appreciated by the people of Ireland,” he said.
“We are all thinking of the grief being experienced by the family of Seán Rooney, by the families of those injured in Lebanon, and in particular the family of Shane Kearney,” he added.
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