Irish soldier Sean Rooney’s final moments as murder believed to be organised by terrorist group Hezbollah

Irish soldier Sean Rooney’s final moments as murder believed to be organised by terrorist group Hezbollah

The Irish soldier shot dead in south Lebanon last week was murdered by Hezbollah to try to deter the UN from patrolling villages where the terrorists store weapons and plan their attacks, the authorities believe.

Private Seán Rooney, 23, was shot dead after his UN vehicle took a detour as he drove colleagues to catch a flight home from Beirut airport.

Men on mopeds are said to have followed Rooney once he left the motorway and possibly alerted militants to the presence of a UN peacekeeping vehicle.

The Defence Forces believe that Rooney encountered a road block in the coastal village of Al-Aqbieh, which he managed to drive past despite his car being swarmed by locals. Seconds later he came under fire and crashed into a shop.

It is understood that Rooney, from Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, died instantly. The authorities are searching for two gunmen.

Rooney’s colleague Trooper Shane Kearney, 22, from Co Cork, suffered a head injury and remains in a critical condition. Two other peacekeepers had minor injuries and were discharged from hospital last night. All four were serving with Unifil, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

According to initial investigations, scores of people were present when Rooney was murdered. Some filmed the peacekeepers’ vehicle being fired upon. Harrowing images of one of the three survivors crawling from the crashed jeep were later shared on social media.

The murder is the subject of investigations by the UN, the Lebanese authorities and the Defence Forces.

Hezbollah, a terrorist group backed by Iran that controls south Lebanon, denied responsibility for the murder. It has been putting out disinformation on social media and its Al-Manar television network about the events surrounding Rooney’s killing.

Al-Manar TV claimed the Irish peacekeepers had run over a local, who required first aid at the scene. The murder followed intimidation and a series of attacks on UN personnel.

Hanin Ghaddar, an expert on Lebanese politics at the Washington Institute, said Hezbollah usually blamed villagers for attacks it organised against Unifil. “This is not the first time they have attacked Unifil. Hezbollah is like a monster that’s cornered and they are becoming more violent. They are losing their allies and their support is dwindling,” she told The Sunday Times.

“They also know the opinion of the international community is shifting against them and Iran. They are escalating their activities to let Europe know they have leverage against Europeans in Lebanon.”

Firas Maksad of the Middle East Institute, a US think tank, said Hezbollah was the main force in south Lebanon but it used local mobs as proxies. “It is very much understood among anyone who follows Lebanese politics that this is Hezbollah,” he said.

“It is no stranger to political assassinations and crimes in Lebanon. It has been accused of assassinating Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. There is also a long line of politicians, members of parliament and security officers who have also been assassinated.”

Last night the Defence Forces said the two soldiers who were slightly injured had returned to Camp Shamrock, the Unifil base. An Air Corps plane had flown to Malta in case it was needed.

This weekend Rooney’s friends and family gathered to pay tribute to him. He had been due to marry Holly McConnellogue, 22, from Derry, next year.

Christopher O’Neill, Rooney’s best friend, said yesterday that receiving the news of his death was “like a nightmare”. He described Rooney as “the most kind-hearted, caring person in the world”.

UN must reassess threat level after attack on Irish soldiers

The death of an Irish soldier in an attack in Lebanon that injured three others has horrified the country as much as anything that has happened in Ukraine (Declan Power writes).

So far all the outpourings have focused largely on sympathy for the troops and their families. But it was the British ambassador to Lebanon who was the first to talk about “those responsible being held accountable”.

Most of the chatter this week had tended towards treating the matter like a accident. But as the information drip-feeding out now indicates, this was anything but an accident.

The first inklings for many former Irish soldiers that this was beyond the norm were the references to armoured utility vehicles (AUVs) being hit by small arms fire and someone being killed.

AUVs are a form of armoured four-wheel drive vehicle and, while not on a par with armoured personnel carriers such as the Sisu or Mowag, they are designed to protect against not just small arms fire, such as from rifles, pistols and sub-machineguns, but even rocket-propelled grenades. It did not add up that there would have been so much carnage from one hastily prepared ambush.

Now according to reports from Lebanon, including the LBCI Lebanon News website, “the bullet that killed the Irish soldier appears to have entered from the car’s back door, which had been opened during the shooting”.

This indicates that this up-close shooting took place after the vehicle had crashed and its occupants were beyond defending themselves.

It would also suggest that the assailants had to go to some effort to open the crashed vehicle and then fire into it at point-blank range killing Private Seán Rooney in cold blood as he lay helpless and injured from the crash.

So now the ensuing investigation must answer two pertinent questions. Why? And how?

Why did these armed elements in the village of Al-Aqbiya act in such a hostile way to the UN?

There is no substance to excuses that they may have mistaken them for other forces. Troops of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) regularly transit these areas as part of the status of forces agreement that is signed off by the Lebanese government and the leading south Lebanese Muslim militia, Hezbollah.

This area of Lebanon, 30 miles south of Beirut and not far from Sidon, the scene of some vicious battles between Hezbollah and the Israelis, has no reason to fear the UN. But even if misplaced fear were a driving force it would not explain the fact that the armed assailants went out of their way to draw blood and seemed intent on killing.

There can be no doubt that the assailants knew exactly who they were targeting. Aside from the UN markings on the vehicles, a group of youths had been shadowing the vehicle when it became separated from its sister vehicle on the motorway.

It is not entirely unusual for this to happen given the chaos of traffic on Lebanon’s main artery into Beirut. But still, for many of us who served in the Defence Forces it poses the other big question. How did this happen to our troops if it were such a routine tasking? Many experienced soldiers of all ranks are asking, were there anti-ambush rehearsals done? Were weapons test-fired? How did the vehicle end up off-route? How did they get separated?

A former colleague of mine with extensive service told me: “It’s time to call out this routine admin-run bullshit.”

The other question to be considered is much bigger. For more than two years now Hezbollah has been behind a number of confrontations with UN forces. While there have been nothing like the levels of threat from the 1990s, confrontations have been gradually escalating from the scuffles the Irish got into last January at the village of Bint Jbeil to blocking UN vehicles, denial of movement and theft of equipment, then smearing the UN in local and social media controlled by Hezbollah.

This makes no real sense from a Lebanese perspective. But it should be remembered that Hezbollah has a long history of acting as a cat’s paw for other powers, in the region and from further away.

The nature of how the UN assesses threats in Lebanon must change, and we in Ireland owe it to those we send in harm’s way that we give them the level best in
all forms of protection. Therefore the brain drain of our experienced soldiers must end.

Source: thetimes