BEIRUT: Hezbollah members have been accused by a military court of intentionally killing a UNIFIL soldier and injuring others in an ambush of their vehicle in southern Lebanon.
Judge Fadi Sawan ruled in a provisional decision after concluding investigations into the incident in Al-Aqabiya on Dec. 14. The soldier, an Irishman, was shot in the head as he tried to drive his stricken vehicle to safety and four others were injured when the vehicle overturned.
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Intelligence Directorate of the Lebanese Army said that at least one person, identified as Mohammad Ayad, who is currently detained, was the one who fired the shots and was handed over by Hezbollah. The others fled, and arrest warrants were issued against them in absentia.
Judge Sawan called for the prosecution of Ayad and four other fugitives: Ali Hassan Khalifa, Ali Hassan Sleiman, Hussein Hassan Sleiman, and Mustafa Hassan Sleiman, and recommended sentences ranging from 20 years in jail to the death penalty.
Article 549, subsection 5 of the Lebanese penal code, invoked by Judge Sawan, states that “the death penalty shall be imposed on anyone who commits the murder of an employee while performing their duties, or in connection with or because of their duties.”
Lebanese law applies to crimes committed against UNIFIL troops under an agreement between the state and the UN.
Sawan said that there “there was a single criminal project among those who attacked the UNIFIL-affiliated vehicle, with the aim of forming a gang.”
His report said that the attack began when the UNIFIL vehicle lost its way while traveling to Beirut.
A captain in another vehicle radioed the lost soldiers, only to hear screaming and the sounds of sticks and iron pipes pounding against metal. The soldiers appealed for help as they were “trapped in an ambush,” and one of the occupants was heard to say: “We’re finished.”
The report said that several CCTV devices recorded footage and audio of the incident, including one person arriving in a car who was heard saying: “We are Hezbollah.”
Another voice caught on surveillance called out for “Hadi” and “Abbas,” and a third voice said: “You fool, we are Hezbollah.”
Attackers surrounded the stricken vehicle, broke the rear window, then started stealing helmets and body armor. The Irish soldier, who was the driver, attempted to get the vehicle to safety but was shot in the back of the head and killed.
The vehicle then overturned. Four others inside were injured, one of whom underwent two surgeries in Lebanon before being returned to his country after falling into a coma.