Lebanon identifies suspects in Blue Helmet's killing: source
Lebanese investigators have identified suspects in the fatal shooting of an Irish United Nations peacekeeper whose vehicle came under fire earlier this month, a judicial official told AFP on Thursday.
Private Sean Rooney, 23, was killed and three others injured on 14 December when their UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicle was attacked near the village of Al-Aqbiya in Lebanon's south.
The area is a stronghold of the powerful Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah.
One of the injured was medevaced home to Ireland on Wednesday for further treatment.
Today, at a somber ceremony at Beirut airport, UNIFIL, @LebarmyOfficial and Ambassador of Ireland paid their respects to Irish peacekeeper Private Sean Rooney, killed late Wednesday night.— UNIFIL (@UNIFIL_) December 18, 2022
Our hearts go out to his family, friends and colleagues. pic.twitter.com/dpsexIKOt6
"The investigation has been able to identify suspects but so far none has been arrested and the security services are still looking for them," said the judicial official who could not be further identified.
The UN patrol "was the target of gunfire from at least two people" when it arrived in Al-Aqbiya, according to the same source.
Citing preliminary findings, the source said the incident "was premeditated and the patrol was surveilled and followed by a car carrying armed men".
UNIFIL acts as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel, neighbours which remain technically at war. The force operates near the southern border.
Wafic Safa, Hezbollah's security chief, has said the killing was "unintentional".
Witnesses said villagers in the Al-Aqbiya area blocked Rooney's vehicle after it took a road along the Mediterranean coast not normally used by UNIFIL.
Al-Aqbiya is just outside UNIFIL's area of operations, the force said.
A Lebanese judicial source earlier told AFP that the driver was killed by a bullet to the head, one of seven that penetrated the vehicle.
The three passengers were injured when the vehicle hit a pylon and overturned.
According to the judicial official, the patrol was "harassed and intercepted at two locations before reaching the scene of the incident".
The official said, without elaboration, that there had been "difficulties linked to the investigation" but interviews with civilian witnesses led to the suspects' identification.
UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian attack.
Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 but fought a devastating 2006 war with Hezbollah and its allies. UNIFIL was then beefed up to oversee a subsequent ceasefire and now counts more than 10,000 soldiers and naval personnel.
On Friday, the mission urged Beirut to ensure a swift investigation into the first death of a UNIFIL member during a violent incident for nearly eight years.