Northern Irish police arrested two men, aged 17 and 37, yesterday over Monday’s killing of a police officer blamed on IRA dissidents. Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead in Craigavon, Co Armagh and his death followed the murder of two British soldiers as they collected pizzas at their army base northwest of Belfast. The incidents have rocked the province which has not seen violence on this scale in ten years. Two IRA splinter groups claimed responsibility for the attacks; the Real IRA (RIRA) for the soldiers and the Continuity IRA (CIRA) for the policeman. Stephen Carroll was shot in the back of the head when he responded to a distress call from a woman in the Lismore Manor area of Craigavon. A sniper in Drumbeg estate executed him with a single bullet to the head. Drumbeg is a staunchly republican estate and the Northern Irish boom has passed it by. On the walls is graffiti which reads “Don’t join the Sinn Fein sell-out” and a mural of a tricolour is decorated with the letters CIRA. Other graffiti announces the Continuity IRA are “still at war”. The victim, 48-year-old Catholic Stephen Carroll was just two years away from his retirement.
Carroll’s death came 48 hours after army sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, were gunned down in an attack on Massereene Barracks in Antrim on Saturday. Four others were injured when gunmen attacked members of 38 Engineer Regiment at the front gate. The regiment was due to leave for Afghanistan. They were the first British soldiers to be killed in Northern Ireland since 23-year-old Stephen Restorick was shot dead by a sniper at a checkpoint in South Armagh in February 1997.
The Times claims RIRA and CIRA co-operated over the two killings but offered no evidence other than a quote from unnamed security officials. The paper says the rifles used to murder the soldiers are sophisticated new weapons imported illegally into the province. Security forces have little intelligence about the renegade organisations but say there is “no unified command structure” linking the groups.
The Real IRA were responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people. The group was born out of a split in the mainstream Provisional IRA in October 1997 over the direction of the peace process. The Continuity IRA is smaller but older. The group has a few dozen active members with leadership in Limerick. They split from the Provisional IRA in 1986 but did not come out in the open until the Provos declared a ceasefire in 1994. The modus operandi of both groups is criminal activity such as assaults, drug dealing, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and smuggling.
The Independent said the trigger for the latest violence was announcement of the return to Northern Ireland of the Armed Forces Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR). Founded in 2005 the SRR has a specific aim of targeting international terrorism. It is the inheritor force of the notorious secret 14 Intelligence Company known as “The Det” (for detachment) instrumental in undermining IRA activity in the 1980s and 1990s. According to the SocialistWorkeronline the SRR was involved in the 2005 London killing of Jean Charles de Menezes (mistakenly believed to be a 7/7 tube bomber) and also “ran death squads in Iraq targeting supporters of the resistance to the US-British occupation.”
The latest incidents spawned rallies across the province. A peace vigil will be held in Craigavon and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are organising silent protests in Belfast, Derry, Lisburn, Newry, and Downpatrick. Peter Bunting, the congress’s assistant general secretary, said workers had to unite to ensure the peace process was not derailed by a sectarian agenda. “They must be faced down with a massive display of the unity of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said. “We are determined not to be assigned into tight sectarian boxes.”