Belfast Telegraph

How the IRA's attack on barracks made me determined to take on the bombers

By Chris Kilpatrick

His heroic exploits in Iraq inspired Oscar-winning blockbuster The Hurt Locker.

Major Chris Hunter was the British Army's most experienced bomb disposal expert in the war-torn country, risking his life on a daily basis.

Now the counter-terrorism specialist has revealed he took up the most dangerous job in the world after witnessing first-hand the carnage created by an IRA bomb attack in Co Antrim.

Mr Hunter had been deployed to Northern Ireland as a troop commander, having just served in Bosnia. "The day that will change the course of my life seems like any other in Northern Ireland: grey, drizzly and dull," he said.

"I join a long, rush-hour queue of cars, waiting to get into the car park of an Army barracks.

"Suddenly, there's a pulse of brilliant white light ahead of me, and a thunderous explosion.

"As I sit at the steering wheel, a flaming whirlwind engulfs the car park.

"A big car bomb has just exploded.

"I can see dozens of soldiers who've been blown off their feet; some are maimed and screaming. On the pavement, there are scorch marks and chunks of flesh. The air is filled with the sound of car alarms set off by the blast.

"As soldiers begin shifting the wounded to the camp's medical centre, my eye is caught by a small group of men smashing car windows with hammers. They're meticulously searching all the remaining vehicles for secondary devices. Too late: there's another enormous blast.

"There's nothing I can do: I'm still sitting in my car, outside the barracks gate. I've never felt so utterly useless in my life.

"The screams from the October 1996 Lisburn bombing in Northern Ireland are still resounding in my ears when it dawns on me that my entire outlook has just changed. In that instant, I come to an irrevocable decision. Whatever it takes, I want to become a bomb disposal operator - to be one of those men I've just witnessed calmly risking their lives to save others."

A warrant officer was killed and 31 civilians and soldiers injured in the attack at Thiepval barracks.

Mr Hunter worked as a bomb disposal expert for 11 years, dealing with thousands of explosive devices and more than 100 IEDs.

He was so successful at disarming explosives in Iraq, Shia militia put a price on his head.

Belfast Telegraph

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