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.
Robinson said, “I am sickened at the attempts by terrorists to destabilize Northern Ireland. Those responsible will not be allowed to drag our province back to the past.”
The attacks followed last week’s announcement by Orde that he was redeploying a small number of specialist British Army Intelligence personnel in the North, a move that was criticized by Sinn Fein.
McGuinness said after the soldiers’ murders that he stood by the criticism, saying there had to be concern over more soldiers being brought into the situation in the North. He described it as “a step back in time.”
But McGuinness, who called the murderers “traitors,” also emphasized his personal determination to defend and build the peace process and he urged everybody to support the police service and to “make politics work.”
McGuinness said the attacks were carried out by members of “micro-groups who are living in cloud cuckoo-land.”
He said, “We have always known there was going to be a challenge from people who are hostile to the peace process and have their own agendas.” He called on Orde to ensure that dissident Republicans do not get their way.
In the Irish Republic President Mary McAleese used exceptionally strong language in her condemnation. She spoke of her “outrage” at the murder of a PSNI officer and said that his killers and those who murdered the soldiers were acting “in utter defiance” of the clearly expressed will of the Irish people.
“Dissident Republican-ism has been left far behind. The dissidents are now a tiny, isolated band of throwbacks, using tired, old, failed strategies,” she said.
McAleese urged anybody with information on the attacks to tell what they know. She said, “I hope those who know them will reflect on what is at stake here and be persuaded by the massive public and political solidarity which has greeted the cowardly acts at Massareene and now Craigavon to lift the phone, tell the police, join the peacemakers and put an end to this hell on earth.”
In Leinster House, seat of the Dail (Parliament) in Dublin, there was also cross-party strong condemnation of the murders, with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen saying he looked forward to seeing those responsible brought quickly to justice.
“Violence has been utterly rejected by the people of this island, both north and south,” he said. “A tiny group of evil people cannot and will not undermine the will of the people of Ireland to live in peace together.”
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, speaking after the soldiers’ murders, said, “We have grown accustomed to a peace that has allowed all communities on the island to look to the future with optimism. This brutal assault is a throwback to a period that we all hoped was in our past.”
A minute’s silence as a mark of respect to the memory of the dead soldiers was observed at the