Northern Ireland’s top policeman, Sir Hugh Orde, disclosed just two days ago that he had requested undercover soldiers to conduct surveillance of suspected militants because the threat level had risen from substantial to severe. Sunday he promised that troops would not be deployed on the streets, but he is now under pressure to step up visible security.
No one knows the numerical strength of Republican splinter groups — estimates range from a few dozen to a couple of hundred — but the nature of the attack indicates that the terrorists possess and know how to use high-powered weaponry.
They ambushed the soldiers as they accepted a pizza delivery at the camp entrance, firing automatic weapons from a van and then, according to witnesses, shooting the soldiers again after they fell to the ground before driving off. Two other soldiers and the two pizza delivery men, one a Polish national, were injured.
The dead soldiers were in desert fatigues; the pizza was to be their last meal before they left for combat duty in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
The splinter groups have been trying to inflict casualties on the security forces for a year. They wounded five officers in separate attacks and came close to placing a large bomb at an army camp at Ballykinlar, County Down.
But it was widely assumed that they had been successfully infiltrated and that they did not have enough ‘safe houses’ to carry out major operations.
Everyone with a stake in the peace process has condemned the murders. The British and Irish prime ministers, Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen, pledged that the killings would not disrupt the power-sharing arrangement.
McGuinness, who himself once organized IRA attacks on British soldiers in Derry, declared bluntly, “That war is over,” and he disputed the right of any former IRA members to carry out such operations.
Robinson described the murders as a “futile act” by those who commanded no public support and had no prospect of success, and he called on loyalist paramilitary groups not to seek revenge but to leave the matter entirely to the police.
The last soldier killed previously in Northern Ireland, 23-year-old Stephen Restorick, was shot by an IRA sniper at a checkpoint in County Armagh on Feb. 12,1997.
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