Disident Republicans are the chief suspects in the murder of a policeman in Craigavon, Co. Armagh, 48 hours after two unarmed British soldiers were shot dead as they accepted a pizza delivery at Massereene barracks near Antrim on Saturday night.
Two other soldiers and two civilian pizza delivery men — one a Pole aged in his thirties — were injured in the barracks attack for which responsibility was admitted by the Real IRA, whose members carried out the 1998 Omagh bombing in which 29 people were massacred.
Making matters even worse in the North, on Monday evening a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) constable was shot and killed on Monday in Craigavon, Co. Armagh.
The Continuity IRA, an even smaller splinter Republican movement than the Real IRA, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“As long as there is British involvement in Ireland, these attacks will continue,” a coded message from the group said.
A 17-year-old and a 37-year-old were arrested on Tuesday and was being questioned by police in connection with that attack.
The cop, Constable Stephen Carroll, who was answering a call from what PSNI chief Sir Hugh Orde called “a vulnerable person”— a woman who said a brick had been thrown through her window — was shot dead in a mainly Catholic estate in the Lismore Manor area of Craigavon.
Carroll, a 48-year-old with three grandchildren, was two years from retirement. He was the first member of the PSNI to be killed by a terrorist since the force was established eight years ago, taking over from the RUC.
Fury over the murders of the soldiers was widespread, with Sinn Fein joining in the condemnation. Party leader Gerry Adams described the killings as “wrong and counter-productive.” He said there should be an end to “actions” like the one on Antrim and added, “The popular will is for peaceful and democratic change. Sinn Fein has a responsibility to be consistent. The logic of this is that we support the police in the apprehension of those responsible.”
Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein Policing Board member, said that the murder of the policeman was “yet another awful tragedy” which prompted “disgust and anger.”
The deaths of the soldiers and policeman were the first terrorist murders of security forces members in almost 12 years.
The soldiers, Mark Quinsey and Cengiz Azimkar, both in their twenties, were due to leave Northern Ireland to serve in Afghanistan just hours after they were gunned down. Azimkar was said to have liked Northern Ireland so much that he was thinking of eventually settling there.
The North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness postponed a planned visit to the U.S. that was to have started early in the week following the attacks. Both leaders traveled to the U.S. on Tuesday, and will be in Washington, D.C. on St. Patrick’s Day where it is expected that they will meet President Barack Obama.
Speaking in Belfast on Tuesday with Robinson and Orde, McGuinness was unequivocal in his condemnation of the murders of both the soldiers and the police officer.
“The people who were responsible for killing Constable Carroll are hoping that we will lose our nerve, are hoping to destroy the peace process and to destroy the political institutions that are overwhelmingly supported by the people of this country. We are absolutely dedicated and committed to ensure that they will not succeed. We’re absolutely united in our approach, in our opposition to what they are doing,” he said.
“And I want to join with Peter to also wholeheartedly appeal to everyone and anyone who has any information whatsoever about these killings to pass that information to the police, north and south. We all know that because of the organization of these groups that this has to be an all-island approach in order to defeat them. And what we need to do is pledge our support to Hugh Orde, to the police forces or services north and south, in their work of combating the activities of these groups.”
Robinson said, “This is a battle of wills between the political class and the evil gunmen. The political class will win. We are absolutely determined that these people will not direct us, will not frame our agenda and will not cause us to retreat from the steps that we believe to be right to take this country forward.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the scene of the soldiers’ deaths on Monday and was urged by Robinson “to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that innocent life is protected in the face of this terrorist threat across Northern Ireland.”
At Stormont just before the policeman’s murder, Brown, Robinson and McGuinness, in a strong show of political unity aimed at easing fears that political stability is threatened, insisted the soldiers’ killings would not be allowed to derail the political process.