Two soldiers ready to fight Taliban ... cut down in Northern Ireland
When Mark Quinsey last visited his family in Highters Heath, Birmingham, his mother Pamela and sister Jaime comforted themselves with the thought he would at least have a few weeks of normal life in peacetime Northern Ireland before setting off for the dangers of war in Afghanistan.
Sapper Quinsey, 23, was just six hours from boarding his RAF flight to Kandahar when he was killed along with his comrade Patrick Azimkar, 21, as they did one of the things people do in normal life – collecting a take-away pizza outside his base in Antrim.
Pamela collapsed with shock when she heard that her only son was dead. Jaime, 25, who was away backpacking in Thailand, was rushing back home yesterday. "RIP Mark, I love you so much. I haven't stopped crying, flying home now," she wrote on her Facebook page. Sapper Quinsey's father, Bill, was in tears. "The last thing in his mind now is seeing Mark smile as he drove off ," said Mr Quinsey's brother Greg.
There was also grief 120 miles away at Wood Green in north London at the home of Sapper Azimkar's family. His mother Geraldine, who is of Irish descent, and father Mehmet, a Turkish-born carpenter, have sought solace with relations. The dead soldier's brother, James, talked of a lost life which was "decisive, generous, proud and dignified", of a young man who had enjoyed Ulster so much that he was thinking of settling in Belfast with his girlfriend and exploring his Irish heritage.
Friends talked of Patrick's love of sport. He was a promising footballer who had trials for Tottenham Hotspur. A spokesman for club said last night: "Given Patrick's affiliation with the club we will be honoured to send a tribute. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this time." The 38 Engineer Regiment, to which the two dead men belonged, was in Afghanistan yesterday. Its tour of duty takes place at a time when US forces will start their "surge" in the country, and there may well be other casualties.
But questions were being asked yesterday about what went wrong in a part of the UK where peace had supposedly broken out, and why the private security guards on duty at Massareene Barracks did not return fire during the attack. One defence source claimed that the guards, all former service personnel, only carried pistols and not rifles. Brigadier George Norton, the Army's commander in Northern Ireland, insisted that both the guard service and soldiers "did everything that they could possibly do", without further endangering the soldiers' and pizza delivery men's lives.
The whole episode took just 30 seconds, but in that time the Real IRA gunmen loosed off 60 rounds without response. The actions of the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service will be examined by a Ministry of Defence inquiry, which always takes place after service fatalities, and which will follow a murder investigation by the police. Sapper Quinsey's cousin, Lee Quinsey, said: "You would have thought he would have been safe on British soil over there. I don't know whether he wanted to go to Afghanistan, but he I know he wanted to do a good job.
"The way these people had used civilians as decoys is absolutely sickening. Someone should know something and, for the sake of our family, they should come forward and give up these murderers."
Mr Quinsey's father, Greg, described his nephew's killers as "cowardly murderers with no morals at all". He added: "Mark was unarmed and he was just collecting a pizza. He was only 23 and this is such a waste of a life. He was just a nice kid. He joined the Army so he could help people. My brother Bill is devastated. He is just keeping himself to himself, we have all tried to see him but he has just locked himself away."
In north London, Sapper Azimkar's cousin, who did not want to be named, asked: "Why is he dead? You don't expect it to happen in Northern Ireland. There are no wars there."
Greg Kalogirou, 23, a friend and neighbour of the family for 11 years, recalled: "I was joking around with him in the street before he left. I know he loved his life in the Army and was always raring to go. He was very good at football. He could have gone into that if he wanted but he joined the Army straight after he left school."
The last British soldier to be killed in Northern Ireland before Saturday evening's deaths was Stephen Restorick, who was 23 when he was shot dead by a sniper as he manned a checkpoint in south Armagh in February 1997. Last night, his father, John, said: "All we can do is send our condolences to the families of these two poor soldiers. What happened to Stephen was terrible, we hope those days will not return."