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Soldiers killed in N Ireland ambush

IRA dissidents have been blamed for the murder of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland, the first such incident in years.

Police forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, today.
Police forensic officers examine the scene at the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast, Northern Ireland, today.

BELFAST // Two British soldiers have been shot to death and four other people wounded in a drive-by ambush that politicians blamed on IRA dissidents. Witnesses said the gunmen struck last night at the main gate of the Massereene army barracks, in Antrim west of Belfast, as a group of soldiers and civilian army staff were collecting pizzas from a deliveryman. Gunmen who apparently had been following the deliveryman raked the army personnel with assault-rifle fire, then sped off. The shooting, the worst in more than a decade in Northern Ireland, appeared designed to undermine Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant administration and the wider peace process. Politicians from both the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority blamed Irish Republican Army dissidents, although none of the IRA splinter groups claimed responsibility. Both sides vowed that the attack would not undermine their 22-month-old coalition, the central accomplishment of a 1998 peace accord for this long-divided British territory following three decades of bloodshed. "We will not be diverted from the direction which Northern Ireland has taken," said the First Minister Peter Robinson, the Protestant leader of the coalition, who cancelled his planned departure today for a 10-day trip to the United States. He called the attack "a futile act by those who command no public support and have no prospect of success in their campaign".

In London, the British prime minister Gordon Brown vowed to "do everything we can to ensure those responsible are brought to justice". He said IRA dissidents were aiming "to ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland and attempt to derail the peace process". The Irish government in Dublin said virtually nobody in either part of Ireland wanted to rekindle a conflict that left more than 3,700 dead. "We had all hoped that senseless violence was a thing of the past," said the Irish prime minister Brian Cowen. "Violence has been utterly rejected by the people of this island, both north and south. A tiny group of evil people cannot, and will not, undermine the will of the people of Ireland to live in peace together."

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said the two fatal victims were soldiers, while those wounded were two soldiers and two civilian army employees. Aided by floodlights, forensic officers in surgical-style masks and white boiler suits combed the scene of the shooting for bullet casings and any other possible evidence. The Massereene barracks is the headquarters for the Northern Ireland regiment of the army's Corps of Royal Engineers. The regiment provides technical assistance to other army units, including communications and construction expertise.

* AP