By PRO IUNVA
This article tells the story of how two Irish peacekeepers, Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte Patrick Derek Smallhorne were murdered in south Lebanon forty two years ago. It was forty years before the killer was brought to justice and this took a protracted campaign by military veterans and the two families. The anniversary of their killing falls on Easter Monday this year.
18 Apr 1980 was a busy day for personnel in 46 Inf Bn, the unit had been through a high tempo period of operations from 6 to 12 Apr in countering the sustained attack by the De Facto Forces (DFF) at the village of At Tiri. The Bn had suffered the DF’s first UNIFIL death from hostile action when Pte Stephen Griffin had died from wounds on 16 Apr. The Force Commander (FC), Maj Gen Emmanuel Erskine was visiting the Bn. OC 47 Inf Bn was on a reconnaissance of the area of operations in advance of the arrival of incoming unit. 46 Inf Bn personnel were busy preparing for rotation with Chalk 1 just five days away.
A warning order had been received from UNIFIL Operations to have drivers and vehicles on standby to evacuate the four Irish personnel who were manning OP Ras close to the Armistice Demarcation Line in the Enclave since 18 Mar. The decision to relieve the OP party was taken by the Chief of Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), Lt Col Vay (USA), and the warning order was communicated via UNIFIL Ops to 46 Inf Bn at approximately 0900 hours local time. The message ended with the following: “Do not move until DFF escort has been arranged by OGL. We expect this operation to take place between 1100 hrs LT and 1300 hrs LT. We will keep you informed as info comes”.
On the previous evening, Lt Col Vay had informed Maj Harry Klein (US Army) who was Deputy Chief OGL and leader of Team Zulu that four OGL observers were to relieve the Irish personnel on OP Ras and he (Vay) had discussed this with Maj Haim the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Liaison Officer to the DFF. OGL Team Zulu consisted of Maj Klein and Capt Patrick Vincent (France) and they were on standby to coordinate the relief of OP Ras and the takeover by OGL observers. Maj Klein and Capt Vincent had travelled to IRISHBatt Area of Operations that morning with the UNIFIL Press Officer Mr Timor Goksel in his vehicle for the FC’s visit and they did not have their own OGL transport.
Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte John O’Mahony from B Coy were detailed to stand by at Total to drive Team Zulu to OP Ras in order to extract the four personnel, their baggage and equipment. Maj Klein asked the IRISHBatt Ops Officer for a Fitted For Radio (FFR) Landrover for communications and Pte Patrick Derek Smallhorne the Ops Officer’s driver was tasked to drive the FFR. Mr Goskel, the Press Officer gave permission for two journalists from Associated Press, Steve Hindy, an American and the AP Bureau Chief in Beirut, along with Zaven Varyan, a photographer of Lebanese – Armenian descent to accompany the relief party and to interview the Irish personnel at OP Ras.
Maj Klein requested Ops Officer 46 Inf Bn to ask DFF Maj Hanna Iskander Diab known as Abu Iskander to rendezvous with the convoy at Bayt Yahoun DFF checkpoint and to escort them to the OP. This was arranged by the A Coy Duty Officer who reported back that Abu Iskander had received the message and was waiting for Team Zulu at the RV; Maj Klein was informed of this.
At 1110 hours, the convoy departed Tibnin. Maj Klein was in charge of the party. The order of march was: a Dodge AM 715 truck driven by Pte John O’Mahony who was armed with an FN rifle and 60 rounds of ammunition; a Bedford truck driven by Pte Thomas Barrett who was armed with a Gustaf SMG and 84 rounds of ammunition; a Landrover FFR driven by Pte Derek Smallhorne who was unarmed because he was driving unarmed OGL observers. The two observers and the two pressmen travelled in the Landrover, Mr Varyan was in the front seat. The route to OP Ras was via Total – Bayt Yahoun – Saff Al Hawa – Aynata.
There is conflict in versions of events as to whether Abu Iskander was or was not waiting at the rendezvous at the DFF checkpoint at Bayt Yahoun. After a few minutes delay at the checkpoint, the convoy proceeded without him. Before the convoy reached Saff Al Hawa, Ops Officer 46 Inf Bn informed Maj Klein on the radio that he had missed Abu Iskander, Maj Klein asked that Abu Iskander be requested to follow the convoy, they would travel slowly and allow him to catch up.
At approximately 1200 hours, the convoy was stopped by around eight DFF men after it passed through the T junction south of Aynata and before reaching the T junction south of OP Ras. Two were in full DFF uniform; some were dressed in part uniform, others in civilian attire. One was aged around 35 years of age, some were teenagers and all were armed with rifles. At that stage the Dodge was 100 Metres ahead of the other vehicles, Pte O’Mahony reversed, he and Pte Barrett dismounted with their weapons, helmets and body armour. Maj Klein told them to get into the Landrover. The DFF men surrounded the Landrover and prevented Maj Klein and Pte Smallhorne from using the radio.
Mahmoud Bazi, leader of the DFF in Aynata, whose brother, Massoud (19) was killed in At Tiri on 12 Apr, arrived at the scene within minutes in a blue Peugeot 404 car and he took control of the DFF men. Maj Klein, who was an Arabic speaker, tried to speak with Bazi but they were ordered out of the Landrover at gunpoint. Pte O’Mahony and Pte Barrett were physically disarmed. Team Zulu and the two journalists were put into Bazi’s car, Bazi put the three Irishmen into a DFF jeep and they were all driven a distance of 400 Metres to a damaged school. The captives were put into a toilet in the school basement. Bazi, armed with Pte Barrett’s SMG, entered the toilet; he said his brother had been killed the previous week in At Tiri. He ordered the three Irishmen out of the room; Maj Klein tried to intervene but was ignored. Two other DFF leaders arrived, they were Capt George Kamal Mkoull (he was known as Capt George) leader of the DFF at Ayn Ibil and Abu Omar, leader of the DFF at Marun ar Ras. Maj Klein appealed to them that no harm should be done to the three Irishmen. They assured him that everything was fine and they went to find Bazi. As the three Irishmen were coming down a stairs, Bazi, who was behind them, fired the Gustaf hitting Pte O’Mahony. Ptes Barrett and Smallhorne made a run for it. Pte O’Mahony went into a room; he was wounded in his right side, at the top of his left thigh and in the right ankle. He removed his shirt and vest and bandaged his wounds. Maj Klein came and carried Pte O’Mahony out of the building and with help from the two journalists; he put him into a DFF jeep. After a short distance, Pte O’Mahony was transferred to a Mercedes car and taken to Bayt Yahoun where he was treated by an A Coy medical orderly before he was transported to the helipad at Tibnin. Meanwhile Maj Klein recovered an UNTSO vehicle that had been hijacked on the previous day and was able to pass a radio message to UNIFIL Ops with Pte O’Mahony’s blood group and details of his injuries. This transmission alerted IRISHBatt and an Irish MO and medical team went to the helipad. Pte O’Mahoney was flown to Naqoura and admitted to NorMedCoy hospital where he was operated on.
Ptes Smallhorne and Barrett were recaptured by DFF men and were last seen in the back of Bazi’s Peugeot car.
At Tibnin, Maj Klein briefed the FC and OC 46 Inf Bn. The FC instructed Team Zulu to meet with the DFF to negotiate the release of the two missing soldiers. At 1540 hours, Team Zulu met with Abu Iskander. At 1655 hours, Lt Col Vay Chief OGL, Lt Col John Rosendal (Netherlands) Acting Chief Ops Officer UNIFIL and two other OGL teams (Team Tyre and Team X-Ray) arrived at Bayt Yahoun. Team Zulu were ordered to return to Naqoura at 1700 hours. Abu Iskander arrived back at Bayt Yahoun and OGL asked for permission to enter the Enclave to look for the missing men. At 1815 hours they were allowed to move and drove to Saff Al Hawa. They went to a house where 30 armed DFF were outside and another 30 inside the house. They met with Maj Saad Haddad. Most of the talking was between Lt Col Vay and IDF officers. Eventually, the OGL officers were informed that Ptes Barrett and Smallhorne were dead.
Team Tyre consisting of Maj Stephan Mahrle (Austria) and Maj Guy De Luca (USA) were tasked by Lt Col Vay with recovering the bodies. The bodies were in the back of a Peugeot pickup truck, covered with blankets and they were transferred to the OGL Cherokee jeep. They were escorted by the DFF through the Enclave to Naqoura. They arrived at NorMedCoy at 2100 hours and Maj Halver Gude, the duty medical officer, certified that they were dead. The bodies were identified from their UNIFIL ID cards and ID discs by Col Eamonn Quigley, Lt Col Sean Brennan and Comdt Maurice Walsh. On the following day, 19 Apr, they were transported to Beirut where autopsies were performed at the American University of Beirut Hospital by Dr Charles K Allam the hospital pathologist and Karl Rammelmuller the UN Medical Officer at ILMAC House in the presence of Capt Michael McCarthy MO 46 Inf Bn.
Pte Thomas Barrett was born on 7 Jan 1950; he was from Macroom, Co Cork. He lived at Married Quarters, Collins Bks, Cork with his wife Emily and three young daughters Karen (6), Janice (4 and a half) and Paula (3 and a half). He joined the DF in 1969 but left after three years, he re-joined on 15 Nov 1974. His parent unit was 4 Inf Bn. He served with UNFICYP in 1972 and he had previously served with UNIFIL with 44 Inf Bn in 1978 – 79.
Requiem Mass was celebrated at the Garrison Church, Collins Bks Cork, the chief celebrant was Bishop Con Lucey and he was buried at Rathcooney Cemetery where prayers were led by Fr Gerard Keohane CF. He was survived by his wife and children, his parents Thomas and Eileen, his brothers Frank, Pat and Sean.
Pte Derek Smallhorne was born on 1 Mar 1949; he lived at Huband Rd, Bluebell, Dublin with his wife Martha and their three children Derek (9), Lynn (8) and Kim (3). He enlisted on 7 Jan 1974, his parent unit was 5 Inf Bn and he was on his first tour of UN duty. He was buried at Palmerstown Cemetery following Requiem Mass at the Church of the Wayside, Bluebell. The Mass was attended by President Patrick Hillery, members of government and opposition and the General Staff.
He was survived by his wife and children, his parents Desmond and Eileen; his sisters Valerie, Noeleen, Olive and Annette, his brothers Desmond, Stephan, James and Brendan.
Pte John O’Mahony was born on 13 Jun 1952; he was from Knockheenahone, Scartaglen, Co Kerry. He joined the Army in 1974 and he was a driver with D Coy, 15 Inf Bn FCA at the Killarney Training Centre.
In Jul 2014, Mahmoud Bazi was arrested in the USA for administrative immigration violations and, in Aug 2014, the judge ruled that he be was deported to Lebanon. After a number of appeals, on 30 Jan 2015, Bazi was extradited from Detroit to Beirut. He was charged with the killings of Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte Derek Smallhorne, the trial commenced on 26 Jun 2015 and was adjourned several times. John O’Mahony travelled to Lebanon and testified at the trial. On 21 Dec 2020 Bazi was sentenced by a Lebanese military tribunal to life in prison, later the tribunal reduced the life sentence to 15 years in prison because of Bazi’s advanced age.