Deported Dearborn man arrested in Lebanon

Robert SnellThe Detroit News

A Dearborn man suspected in the deaths of two United Nations peacekeepers in 1980 was arrested in Lebanon on Friday after being deported for entering the U.S. illegally and lying about his immigration status.

Mahmoud Bazzi, 72, a native of Lebanon who worked as an ice cream man in Dearborn, was placed on a commercial flight Thursday to Beirut. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents escorted Bazzi until he was turned over to Lebanese authorities Friday.

His return was not unexpected but marks the end of an international fight over Bazzi's fate, a fight that revived painful memories of the deaths of two U.N. peacekeepers 35 years ago.

Bazzi was deported five months after admitting during an immigration hearing that he entered the United States without proper documentation and lied to obtain immigration status.

"He made it easy for the government," his lawyer, Karim Ajluni, told The Detroit News. "I hope someday he will be back."

Bazzi leaves behind a wife and three daughters who will stay in the U.S. In Lebanon, Bazzi has children and grandchildren -- 23 in all -- and will live with relatives in his homeland, Ajluni said.

"He wanted to go back and see his family," Ajluni said.

The U.S. government said Bazzi was not honest about how he entered the country when he received asylum in 1994 and media reports said he apparently entered the country using someone else's passport.

During an August hearing, Immigration Judge David Paruch warned Bazzi he will not be allowed to return for at least 10 years without permission from the U.S. government.

"ICE is committed to ensuring the United States does not serve as a safe haven for individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts," said Marlon Miller, special agent in charge of the Detroit office of Homeland Security Investigations.

The Irish government suspects Bazzi in the deaths of two of its soldiers assigned to United Nations peacekeeping duties in Lebanon. Bazzi has insisted he wasn't involved in the killing of Derek Smallhorne and Thomas Barrett.

Irish officials on Friday issued a statement welcoming Bazzi's "arrest and detention in Beirut."

"I believe that this is a significant step in the pursuit of justice for Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne, who lost their lives while on United Nations peacekeeping duty in Lebanon almost 35 years ago," the county's defense minister, Simon Coveney, said in the statement. "It is an important day for the families and I wish to commend them for their continued commitment to securing justice for their loved ones."

The deportation surprised Steve Hindy, a brewery owner in Brooklyn, N.Y., who in 1980 was an Associated Press war correspondent in Lebanon. He says he was held hostage by Bazzi before the peacekeepers were killed.

"I'm kind of surprised that justice, in some way, is being done 35 years after the crime," Hindy, 65, told The News. "It was a terrible, unjust thing that was done to those two young Irishmen who were fathers and at the end of their term of duty in Lebanon when these horrible murders happened.

"So I'm glad that, eventually, the law caught up with the guy."

Bazzi took credit for the deaths during a televised interview shortly after the killings.

"He never did that thing," Ajluni said. "It was all a fabrication and he was forced to say it."

Following an immigration hearing in August, Bazzi's daughter Malak Bazzi proclaimed his innocence.

"We all know what the bottom point is," Malak Bazzi said. "(The United States) just wants to clean their hands and get rid of him."

(313) 222-2028