BELFAST (Reuters) – Police arrested three men in Northern Ireland yesterday in connection with the killing of two soldiers by militants seeking to rid the province of British sovereignty by force.
Police conducting searches in the town of Lurgan, southwest of Belfast, where one man was arrested, were attacked with petrol bombs and stones but no one was injured, a police spokesman said.
The Real IRA, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which formally ended its military campaign against British rule in 2005, shot dead the two soldiers on Saturday in the deadliest act of violence in Northern Ireland in over a decade.
The attack was followed two days later by the killing of a police officer by another splinter organisation, the Continuity IRA. Three men are being questioned over that shooting.
The detention yesterday of the three men, aged between 21 and 41, prompted up to 60 people to protest outside a police station in Lurgan and the local offices of Sinn Fein, the main pro-Ireland political party in the province.
Sinn Fein, a political ally of the IRA, has faced condemnation from hardline pro-Ireland nationalists for describing the people behind the shootings as “traitors” and calling on Catholic communities to help police find them.
Northern Ireland’s police service is still viewed as a partisan pro-British force in hardline nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.
Last week’s attacks shattered relative calm brought by a 1998 peace deal which ended 30 years of violence between the IRA, seeking a united Ireland, and groups wanting to maintain the union with Britain.
Politicians on both sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide have vowed the violence will not derail the peace process, but many people in the British province fear more attacks will happen.