Real IRA claims shooting of British soldiers

ANTRIM, Northern Ireland, (Reuters) – The dissident  republican group Real IRA claimed responsibility yesterday for  killing two British soldiers in Northern Ireland, one of the  worst attacks since a 1998 peace deal stemmed years of violence.

Gunmen shot the soldiers as they picked up pizzas at the  gates of an army base near Antrim on Saturday night. Four  people, including two pizza delivery men, were wounded.

A caller to the Sunday Tribune newspaper claimed  responsibility for the shooting in the name of the South Antrim  brigade of the Real IRA.

“He said he made, and the Real IRA made, no apology for  targeting British soldiers while they remained what he called  occupying the north of Ireland,” Suzanne Breen, a journalist at  the newspaper, told Sky News.

The Real IRA, a splinter group from the Irish Republican  Army, carried out the deadliest single bombing of Northern  Ireland’s sectarian “Troubles” in the market town of Omagh in  August 1998. Twenty-nine people were killed.

Northern Ireland’s former foes vowed the killings in Antrim  would not plunge the province into a new cycle of violence.

“Their intention is to bring British soldiers back onto the  streets. They want to destroy the progress of recent times and  to plunge Ireland back into conflict,” said Sinn Fein President  Gerry Adams, for years the face of republican opposition to  British rule in Northern Ireland.

The victims were collecting the pizza at the Massereene  barracks near Antrim, 15 miles (25 km) northwest of Belfast,  when the gunmen pulled up in a vehicle and opened fire.

After an initial burst of gunfire, the attackers walked up  and shot the victims as they lay on the ground, Irish state  broadcaster RTE said.

The two soldiers who were killed were in their 20s and due  to fly out for duty in Afghanistan. They were the first British  soldiers to be killed in Northern Ireland for 12 years.

Police said one of the delivery men, a Polish national, was  critically injured.

The 1998 Good Friday peace accord ended 30 years of conflict  in Northern Ireland in which more than 3,000 people were killed.  But sporadic violence, much of it crime-linked, has continued.

The IRA, which sought a united Ireland and drew support from  the minority Roman Catholic community, and pro-British  Protestant guerrilla groups agreed to ceasefires under the deal.

Saturday’s shooting followed a police warning last week that  the threat from splinter groups from the Irish Republican Army  was again high. It also came after reports, which angered  nationalist politicians, that members of Britain’s Special  Reconnaissance Regiment had returned to the province.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said IRA  splinter groups and “crazies with guns in their hands” did not  have public support. “Whether it’s the Real IRA or the  Continuity, IRA they need to be defeated.”

The violence appeared to be a tactic to provoke a reaction  from loyalist supporters of British rule, said Pete Shirlow,  senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast School of Law.

The main threat was how those loyalists would react, he said.  But there would need to be a sustained level of new violence for  the peace process to risk breakdown.

“I don’t think we can go back to what we had (in the  Troubles) but it creates unease, it creates uncertainty.”

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness,  a former IRA guerrilla commander turned peace negotiator, said  elements in both the republican and loyalist camp were hostile  to the peace process but they were in a minority.

“We have to move forward, keep our nerve and continue to  show that politics works, because under no circumstances can we  allow microgroups like this into the driving seat,” he told RTE.

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