Real IRA attack was an attempt at ‘mass murder’

THE attack on an army base in Co Antrim in which two British soldiers were shot dead was an attempt at “mass murder” by the dissident republican group, the Real IRA, police in the North said last night.

In a call to the Sunday Tribune newspaper, the organisation, which killed 29 people in the Omagh bomb massacre in August 1998, claimed responsibility for the gun attack on Saturday night at the Massereene Barracks in Antrim.

The attack left two other soldiers badly wounded, and two delivery men were also hit, one critically.

In a statement, the paper said: “The caller said he made no apologies for targeting British soldiers while they continued to occupy Ireland and also said he made no apologies for targeting the pizza delivery men who, he said, were collaborating with the British by servicing them.”

At one stage the killers stood over their victims and fired a second volley.

PSNI Investigating officer Det Supt Derek Williamson said: “I have no doubt in my mind this was an attempt at mass murder.”

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy spoke with PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde yesterday morning and pledged his continuing support. The two men will meet to discuss latest developments on Thursday.

President Mary McAleese led the condemnation of the murders, while Taoiseach Brian Cowen said violence had been “utterly rejected” by the people of the island.

“A tiny group of evil people cannot and will not undermine the will of the people of Ireland to live in peace together,” said Mr Cowen, who conveyed his sympathy in a telephone call with British prime minister Gordon Brown.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said no effort would be spared by the authorities in assisting the investigation.

The North’s deputy first minister, Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness, said his party had a responsibility to be “consistent” in supporting the police. “The logic of all of that is that we support the police in the apprehension of those involved in last night’s attack, and for me to say anything different is effectively to press the destruction button on the political process of the last 15 years and I’m not prepared to do that. I supported the IRA during the conflict, I myself was a member of the IRA, but that war is over.”

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the murders were “an attack on the peace process”, wrong and counter-productive. “Their intention is to bring British soldiers back onto the streets. They want... to plunge Ireland back into conflict.”

The two soldiers killed were wearing desert fatigues because they were just hours away from leaving for active service in Afghanistan.

Mr Orde revealed earlier this week he had called in British special forces to carry out surveillance operations to thwart a heightening threat against his officers, but ruled out putting troops back on the streets.

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