A suspect in the 1980 killing of two Irish United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon has been deported from the U.S. after admitting he entered the country more than 20 years ago with a fake passport.
Mahmoud Bazzi, 71, a resident of Dearborn, Michigan, was deported back to his home country on Thursday and turned over to Lebanese authorities, the Irish Times reports.
U.S. immigration officials said Bazzi admitted to an immigration court that he entered the country in 1994 by providing false information to the government that led to him being granted permanent residence in the U.S.
Eyewitnesses have identified Bazzi as the man who abducted seven members of a UN peacekeeping party in war-torn Lebanon in April 1980. Two Irish army privates, Tom Barret and Derek Smallhorne, were kidnapped and later found tortured and murdered.
American journalist Steve Hindy and Irish soldier John O’Mahony, who was wounded in the attack, have both identified Bazzi as their abductor.
Marlon Miller, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Detroit, said Bazzi’s deportation was “the culmination of a sophisticated and meticulous investigation.”
He added that U.S. immigration and customs enforcement was “committed to ensuring the United States does not serve as a safe haven for individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts.”
Bazzi was arrested last July and held in a prison near Dearborn, where he worked as an ice-cream man. He leaves a wife and three daughters, all American citizens, in the U.S.
The Irish Times reports that Bazzi has denied in newspaper interviews that he was involved in the killing of the Irish soldiers, although he claimed credit days after their deaths on television in Lebanon, saying it was revenge for the death of his younger brother in an altercation with Irish UN troops.
O’Mahony, who said the Lebanese man injured him after opening fire on him during the 1980 incident, said he was glad to hear of Bazzi’s deportation.
“I am delighted that they are after deporting him out of America. All we can do is wait and see what he might be charged with in the Lebanon,” he said.
Minister for Defense Simon Coveney also welcomed Bazzi’s deportation and detention by Lebanese authorities.
“I believe that this is a significant step in the pursuit of justice for Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne who lost their lives while on United Nations peacekeeping duty in Lebanon almost 35 years ago,” he said.
“It is an important day for the families and I wish to commend them for their continued commitment to securing justice for their loved ones.”
Coveney added that it was up to the Lebanese authorities to investigate the murder of the two soldiers and that they had primary jurisdiction in pursuing a prosecution.
He said the Irish government would “provide whatever assistance possible to the Lebanese authorities in progressing this issue.”