Lebanon says suspect identified in killing of UNIFIL blue helmet

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 December 14 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 terror group Hezbollah.

“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.”

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.

Lebanese soldiers stand behind a damaged UNIFIL vehicle at the scene where a peacekeeper convoy came under gunfire in the Al-Aqbiya village, south Lebanon, December 15, 2022. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)

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.

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