Arrest in peacekeeper killings case

Last updated 09:18 22/07/2014

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US federal agents have arrested a man who the Irish government says is a suspect in the abduction, torture and killing of two Irish soldiers serving as United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon 34 years ago.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Mahmoud Bazzi on Tuesday at his home in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. The agency arrested Bazzi for "administrative immigration violations" not directly in connection with the killings in Lebanon, spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told The Associated Press last week.

She said he would be held "pending removal proceedings". Bazzi's next court date is July 31.

Irish Defence Minister Simon Coveney welcomed Bazzi's arrest and said Ireland has continually pursued the case with Lebanese and US authorities over the years.

"I hope this is the start of a process to bring to justice the alleged perpetrator of what was a heinous crime, the torture and murder of two innocent Irish peacekeepers," Coveney said in a statement.

Bazzi has denied killing Derek Smallhorne and Thomas Barrett in 1980, telling the Detroit Free Press he once falsely confessed to the slayings because he feared a Lebanese militia would kill him unless he lied.

"I am innocent," he said. "I had nothing to do with that."

While not specifically citing the accusations against Bazzi in his native Lebanon, Christensen said the Department of Homeland Security "is committed to rooting out alleged human rights violators who seek a safe haven in the United States."

"ICE's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center investigates human rights violators who try to evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States, including those who have participated in war crimes and acts of genocide, torture, the use of child soldiers and extrajudicial killings," she said in an email.

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- AP

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