The sole suspect detained and charged by the Lebanese authorities in relation to last year’s killing of Pte Seán Rooney in South Lebanon has been released from detention, according to a Lebanese army spokesman. Mohammad Ayyad was charged with multiple offences relating to the lethal attack on a convoy of Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanese town of Al-Aqbiya last December.
It is unclear whether Mr Ayyad was released on bail or has been acquitted. A military court lawyer said that under Lebanese law, Mr Ayyad could only have been released on bail at this stage of the trial. Mr Ayyad’s trial was scheduled to continue on December 15th at the military tribunal in Beirut. Four other Lebanese men charged by the military court earlier this year in relation to the attack at Al-Aqbiya have never been arrested and remain at large.
A spokesman for the Department of Defence said: “The Tánaiste and Minister of Defence and the department are aware of media reports that the man accused of the murder of Pte Seán Rooney, Mohammed Ayyad, has been released on bail from custody in Lebanon. The Department has engaged a Lebanese legal firm to represent the interests and concerns of the Irish Government at the court hearings and they will be in contact with the Court today to establish the circumstances of Ayyad’s reported release.”
During the first trial hearing at the military tribunal in August, Mr Ayyad admitted to firing a gun during the deadly attack on Irish peacekeepers serving with the UN force, known as Unifil, but denied being a member of Hizbullah, the militant and political Shia organisation that dominates South Lebanon. Mr Ayyad was represented by over 20 lawyers at the hearing in August. A source familiar with the military court said that they viewed the large legal team as a demonstration of strength to the military court judges.
During his official visit to Israel in September, Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence Micheál Martin voiced serious concerns about whether the Lebanese military court system would deliver justice for Pte Rooney, as well as Trooper Shane Kearney who was seriously injured during last December’s attack.
Hizbullah is currently involved in escalating confrontations with the Israel Defense Forces as tensions rise across the Middle East following the outbreak of war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza on October 7th. Since the outbreak of hostilities, Unifil has criticised several attacks on or near its bases and personnel, which currently include over 300 Irish soldiers.
So far, 73 Hizbullah fighters are believed to have been killed during Israeli strikes in the territory around the Israel-Lebanon border. Meanwhile, on Sunday a Hizbullah strike on northern Israel wounded seven Israeli troops and 10 other people as tensions rise along the Israel-Lebanon border.
Hizbullah did not respond to a request for comment.