DETROIT — Two men who say they were eyewitnesses to war crimes committed 34 years ago by a Dearborn, Mich., ice cream man have been told by U.S. authorities to be ready to testify, the Free Press has learned.
Steve Hindy, an American and former journalist, and John O'Mahony, a retired Irish soldier, both said they have been told their testimony could be needed during deportation hearings against Mahmoud Bazzi, a 71-year-old Lebanese man arrested last month at his home near Detroit. Bazzi is scheduled to appear at an Aug. 11 hearing.
The U.S. wants to deport Bazzi to Lebanon over an administrative immigration violation. Irish authorities and the witnesses also want him tried for allegedly torturing and killing two Irish soldiers and wounding O'Mahony in 1980 in war-torn Lebanon.
American authorities have been officially mum on whether there are plans to prosecute Bazzi for war crimes.
Hindy, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and now runs a brewery, said a lawyer in the Detroit Office of Immigration and Enforcement recently contacted him to ask for his travel plans. "They have asked me to be available," Hindy said in an interview late last week.
Hindy said the government lawyer, Frank Ludde, asked him to be ready to testify via closed-circuit TV, if needed. Reached Friday, Ludde referred questions to a spokesman, who said he could not comment on the case.
O'Mahony, who lives in rural Ireland, said a U.S. Embassy official in London contacted him in the last week or so and asked whether he could testify in a similar arrangement.
"He just wanted to know whether I was still willing to testify," O'Mahony said Friday. "I said that's what this whole thing's about. ... I said, by all means."
Hindy and O'Mahony maintain that Bazzi abducted them and five other members of a United Nations peacekeeping group in southern Lebanon.
Bazzi was part of a Lebanese militia that sometimes clashed with the multinational UN troops. Ten days before the abduction, his younger brother was killed in a skirmish with Irish UN troops. On local radio, death threats were made against the Irish, demanding a bounty or the lives of two Irish soldiers.
Hindy was a war correspondent for the Associated Press at the time, covering Lebanon's civil war from Beirut. He accompanied the UN troops on April 18, 1980, to resupply a distant outpost in hostile territory. The mission included the three Irish soldiers. A group of gunmen stopped the group, took them to a schoolhouse and separated the Irish from the others. O'Mahony said Bazzi shot him in the schoolhouse. The other two Irish soldiers fled, but were recaptured outside. Hindy said he saw Bazzi drive away with privates Tom Barrett and Derek Smallhorne. The soldiers' bodies were discovered later that day.
Before his arrest, Bazzi denied in interviews with the Free Press being involved in the abduction and shooting of O'Mahony and the killings of Barrett and Smallhorne.
Complicating matters for Bazzi, he claimed credit in the days after the killings on television in Lebanon. He has told the newspaper that a militia commander forced him to go on TV and lie, threatening his life if he did not claim responsibility.
Bazzi said he entered the U.S. 21 years ago using another person's passport. He has supported himself and his family, in part, by selling ice cream to children.