(Photo credit: Getty Images)
On 5 January, Lebanon’s military court charged seven people in relation to last month’s shooting on the Al-Aqabiya seaside road, between the southern towns of Al-Zahrani and Tyre, which left one Irish UNIFIL soldier, Sean Rooney, dead on 14 December.
A week after the shooting, a Lebanese official informed AFP that investigators identified several suspects. Two days later, Lebanese security officials confirmed that the suspected shooter behind Rooney’s killing had been taken into custody after being handed over to the state by Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, who was quickly blamed for the death following the incident.
Reports at the time suggested that the suspect was not a Hezbollah member, but rather a mere supporter.
According to a judicial source, the suspect has been charged with murder, while the other six – who remain outside of custody – have received charges ranging from attempted murder to vandalizing a vehicle.
In a statement released via Twitter by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) after the charges were issued, the army announced that its investigation was over and that the case had been transferred to a civilian court.
بعدما أنجزت مديرية المخابرات في الجيش اللبناني التحقيقات الأساسية في حادثة العاقبية، أحالت بتاريخ ٣ / ١ / ٢٠٢٣ الملف الأساسي على القضاء المختص.#الجيش_اللبناني #LebaneseArmyhttps://t.co/1KOLgQa0Zo
— الجيش اللبناني (@LebarmyOfficial) January 5, 2023
Despite having taken part in the investigation, handing over the suspect, and categorically denying any involvement, some still maintained that Hezbollah was responsible for the incident.
Rooney was shot dead on 14 December when a UNIFIL vehicle entered a village outside their legal mandate without the legally required army escort.
Suspicious of the foreign troops, the villagers demanded they leave and blocked their intended path before the shooting started. In the ensuing chaos, the UNIFIL vehicle was overturned. A few other members of the UNIFIL force were injured, and Rooney was shot in the back of the head.
UNIFIL has been operating in Lebanon since the first Israeli invasion of 1978, after which UN Resolution 425 was passed, allowing the “peacekeeping force” to “monitor the cessation of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel.” Despite this, their forces failed to end an 18-year occupation and have even attempted to expand their areas of influence without proper authorization.
Many in Lebanon have accused the UNIFIL of acting to suppress resistance in southern Lebanon on behalf of Israel.