Northern Irish police arrested two men, aged 17 and 37, yesterday in connection with 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 different 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 nearby Drumbeg estate executed him with a single bullet to the head. Drumbeg is a staunchly republican estate and the Northern Irish boom has largely passed by the place. On the walls nearby is a mural of a tricolour decorated with the letters CIRA and graffiti which reads “Don't join the Sinn Fein sell-out”. More graffiti announces that the Continuity IRA are “still at war”. The victim of their war, 48 year old Catholic Stephen Carroll was just two years away from his retirement.
Carroll’s death came just 48 hours after army sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, were gunned down in an attack on Massareene Barracks in Antrim on Saturday. Four others were injured when gunmen attacked members of 38 Engineer Regiment waiting at the front gate. The regiment was due to leave for Afghanistan within hours when the ambush occurred. The pair were the first British soldiers to be killed in Northern Ireland since 23-year-old Stephen Restorick was shot dead by a sniper as he manned a checkpoint in South Armagh in February 1997.
The Times claims that RIRA and CIRA co-operated over the two killings but offered no evidence to back up the claim other than a throwaway quote from an unnamed security official. The paper says the rifles used to murder the soldiers are newer, more sophisticated weapons imported illegally into the province. Of more interest was the fact that security forces have very little intelligence about the renegade organisations but do say there is “no unified command structure” linking the two groups.
The Real IRA are the most well-known of the two and 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 the smaller but older of the two. The group has a few dozen active members with its leadership based 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 day-to-day 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 burst of violence was the announcement the Armed Forces Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) was returning to Northern Ireland. 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) which was 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 two incidents have spawned a series of rallies across the province of people determined to show their revulsion at the murders. A peace vigil will to 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.”