Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Manhunt begins for 'Real IRA' gunmen

Flowers at the scene of the fatal shootings outside Massereene army base
Flowers at the scene of the fatal shootings outside Massereene army base
Flowers left at the entrance to Massereene Army Base
Flowers are left at the entrance to Massereene Army Base
A field dresing lies in the bloodsoaked road at the entrance to Massereene Army Base
Graffiti daubed on walls in West Belfast by CIRA supporters showed that all is not well in the republican camp and that dissident republicans are not supportive of latest Sinn Fein and IRA moves. This message on the Falls Road in West Belfast was painted over shortly after the picture was taken...
A woman holds back tears during a prayer service for the soldiers killed at Massereene British Army Barracks in Antrim, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March 8, 2009. Two British soldiers were shot dead late Saturday and four injured by dissident Irish Republican terrorists, the first killing of British troops in Northern Ireland since 1997. Its callousness, in targeting soldiers and civilians alike, appeared calculated to inflame community tensions and undermine Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant administration. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
The front entrance to the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, is seen Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
File pictures of republican dissident group, the Real IRA at a 'training camp' in the border counties of Northern Ireland taken in January 2008
A police officer patrols outside the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush Saturday that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Police forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Aerial showing Masserene army base and it's front entrance
File pictures of republican dissident group, the Real IRA at a 'training camp' in the border counties of Northern Ireland taken in January 2008
Police forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Police forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
File pictures of republican dissident group, the Real IRA at a 'training camp' in the border counties of Northern Ireland taken in January 2008
A police officer talks on his phone at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush Saturday that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Security at the entrance to the Massereene army barracks in Antrim
Police Forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Police Forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
A security officer patrols the entrance to the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
A police officers patrols at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison) (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Local parish members hold a prayer service at Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison) (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson speaks to the media in Antrim, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009. The First Minister was giving his views on the deaths of two British soldiers shot late Saturday along with four injured, by dissident Irish Republican terrorists, in the first killing of British troops in Northern Ireland since 1997. Its callousness, in targeting soldiers and civilians alike, appeared calculated to inflame community tensions and undermine Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant administration. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward speaks to the media at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009 after two British soldiers were shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush Saturday that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Suspected IRA dissidents who opened fire on British soldiers and pizza delivery men outside an army base shot their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground, police said Sunday. Two soldiers died and four other people, including two men delivering pizzas, remained hospitalized with serious wounds following Saturday night's attack at the entrance to Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
A man leaves flowers near Massereene army barracks, in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009. Suspected IRA dissidents opened fire on British troops and pizza delivery men outside a Northern Ireland army base, killing two soldiers and wounding four other people. Police said Sunday the attackers fired on their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
A man leaves flowers near Massereene army barracks, in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March, 8, 2009. Suspected IRA dissidents opened fire on British troops and pizza delivery men outside a Northern Ireland army base, killing two soldiers and wounding four other people. Police said Sunday the attackers fired on their victims again as they lay wounded on the ground. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Secretary of State Shaun Woodward leaves the Massareen Army Base in Antrim today after meeting colleagues of the murdered soldiers.
First Minister Peter Robinson and Willie McRea at the scene of the attack
First Minister Peter Robinson at the scene of the attack
Representatives from the main churches who arrived at scene to pay respect
Representatives from the main churches who arrived at scene to pay respect
A masked Real IRA , (RIRA), colour party stand over the coffin of murdered dissident republican on 18/10/00
Parishioners pay respect to the families and loved ones of those affected.
Parishioners from the main churches arrived at scene to pay respect to the families and loved ones of those affected.
An abandoned car (believed to be a getaway car) on the Ranaghan Road a few miles from Massereene army base after last night's fatal shootings.
Two cars in a sealed off area outside the entrance to Massereene army base after the fatal shootings.
Forensics team searches the area
.An impromptu multi-denominational prayer services was held this afternoon at the cordon around Massareen Army Base in Antrim in memory of the murdered soldiers and the injured.
.An impromptu multi-denominational prayer services was held this afternoon at the cordon around Massareen Army Base in Antrim in memory of the murdered soldiers and the injured.

The Real IRA last night claimed responsibility for the execution-style killings of two British soldiers outside their barracks in Antrim.

A huge manhunt was underway for the terrorists, who are believed to be operating from Belfast and Lurgan, Co Armagh.

The savage gun attack came just days after PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde raised the security threat level in the to "severe".

Senior anti-terrorist officers on both sides of the Border said that initial inquiries and intelligence indicated the culprits were members of the Real IRA, which was responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Their assessment was backed up by a coded call to a newspaper in which the Real IRA claimed responsibility.

The two victims were collecting a pizza delivery at the Massereene base near Antrim when the gunmen pulled up in a vehicle and opened fire.

Four other people, including two pizza delivery men, were wounded in the shooting.

After an initial burst of gunfire, the attackers shot the victims as they lay on the ground. The two soldiers killed were in their 20s and due to fly out for duty in Afghanistan.

Last night, a 'Sunday Tribune' journalist was contacted by someone using a recognised code word, claiming the attack was carried out by the Real IRA.

Journalist Suzanne Breen said a male caller claimed responsibility for the shooting on behalf of the South Antrim brigade. He told her the Real IRA made "no apology for targeting British soldiers" while they remained "occupying the North of Ireland".

Ms Breen said the caller described the pizza staff as "collaborating with British rule".

Security sources said the involvement of the other main renegade republican organisation, the Continuity IRA, could not be ruled out.

One said: "We have to look at both options, but it seems more likely from what we know that the RIRA group, which has become increasingly active in Belfast and Lurgan in recent months, is behind the attack."

Both organisations are reckoned to have a hard core of about 100 activists in Northern Ireland. Their members are much more scattered on the southern side of the Border because of the inroads made by the gardai.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Derek Williamson said: "I have no doubt in my mind this was an attempt at mass murder."

The two young victims were the first British Army soldiers to be killed in 12 years.

The last soldier to be murdered in the Troubles was Lance-Bombardier Stephen Restorick, a 23-year-old from Peterborough in England.

The two latest victims have not yet been named, but were members of the 38 Engineers Regiment. They were dressed in desert fatigues and were due to fly out of RAF Aldergrove, just a few miles away from their base, in the early hours of yesterday.

One army insider said: "Their plane was due to leave at around 1.20am yesterday morning and this was to have been their last pizza for six months.

"They were fully prepared for war and to face the threat of the Taliban in Afghanistan but these soldiers were gunned down in cold blood before they even had the chance to leave their home base."

The gunmen were aware that soldiers at the barracks followed a regular routine on Saturday nights, when as many as 20 separate orders were made for pizza to be delivered.

One of the pizza delivery men wounded in the shooting was named locally as Anthony Watson (19), who lived in the Antrim area. His condition in hospital is described as serious. It is believed he was shot at least three times.

The condition of the second man, a 32-year-old Pole, is critical. Both worked for Domino's Pizza at Church Street, Antrim, which was open for business last night.

Police are examining a suspect vehicle abandoned in the nearby town of Randalstown at around 11pm last night.

The Massereene attack comes after repeated warnings about the capacity and intentions of dissident groups, by Sir Hugh Orde. It was disclosed last week that the dissident threat level had been officially raised to "severe" -- the second highest alert in Northern Ireland.

This came in the wake of the recent attempted car bombing of a British Army barracks at Ballykinlar in Co Down and an attack on an Orange Hall in Fermanagh. Anti-terrorist officers say there has been some crossover of personnel between the Real IRA and Continuity IRA recently. But they dismissed reports that the dissidents had set up a co-ordinated, cohesive command structure.

Since the Omagh bombing, the Real IRA has split up into several factions. A row in Portlaoise jail between the group's so-called chief of staff, Michael McKevitt, and his second in command, Liam Campbell, resulted in a deep division and the formation of separate outfits.

A third faction, led by a hardliner based in Derry, has been responsible for a series of terrorists attacks, including attempts to murder members of the PSNI, in the past 18 months.

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