NORTHERN IRELAND POLICE OFFICER SHOT DEAD – TWO DAYS AFTER ARMY BASE KILLINGS

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Police officer takes position

A police officer was shot dead in a republican stronghold in Northern Ireland Monday night. He was the third member of the security forces to be killed in 48 hours.

The dangerous and sudden escalation in violence threatened to draw a counter-reaction from loyalist paramilitaries and destabilise the peace process.

“We are tonight staring into the abyss,” said Dolores Kelly, a member of the nationalist party the SDLP who sits on Northern Ireland’s policing board. “I would appeal to people to pull back.”

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Two police officers were responding to a call about “suspicious activity” near a school in the Lismore Avenue area of Craigavon, Co Armagh, at about 9.45pm when their patrol cars were attacked. The gunmen were reported to have fired from wasteground. One officer was killed, the second injured.

The estate is reputed to harbour supporters of a splinter group of the Provisionals styling themselves the Continuity IRA. More shots were reported later. Police carrying machineguns were guarding the scene, with helicopters hovering overhead.

Last week MI5 raised the threat level in the Province from “substantial” to “severe”. On Friday night Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, announced that the Armed Forces Special Reconnaissance Regiment was being drafted in to watch suspected dissident republican terrorists.

On Saturday two unarmed soldiers were shot dead as they took delivery of pizzas at Massereene Barracks in Co Antrim. Two other soldiers and two pizza deliverymen were injured. The Real IRA, a splinter group of the Provisional IRA opposed to power-sharing, said it had carried out the murders. It made no apology for shooting and wounding the civilians because, it said, they were “collaborators of British rule in Ireland”.

The officer is the first member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to be killed by terrorists since the force took over from the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 2001.The last police officers to be murdered by the Provisional IRA were Roland Graham and David Johnston. The community constables had been on foot patrol in Lurgan in 1997 when gunmen ran up and shot them in the backs of their heads.

Sinn Féin was swift to condemn last night’s shooting, having waited 14 hours to respond to Saturday’s incident. John O’Dowd, the local Sinn Féin Assembly member, said that it was an attack on the peace process and would do nothing to advance Irish republican goals. He said that the officers were responding to a call from a member of the public. “It is not clear whether it was a hoax or not,” he added.

Loyalist paramilitaries have so far resisted reaction, despite numerous attacks against police officers over the past 18 months. But while the deaths of soldiers is regarded as an attack on the British state, the murder of a local police officer may be interpreted as an attack on the local unionist community.

Fresh graffiti in the area in a loyalist area of nearby Lurgan yesterday said: “An eye 4 an eye — back 2 war”.

Earlier in the day while on a visit to Northern Ireland, Gordon Brown insisted that the peace process was unshakable. On a hastily arranged trip, he visited the scene of Saturday’s shooting and met local political leaders. He said: “These are callous murderers, these are terrorists who showed no sympathy towards people who were dying . . . these people have got to be hunted down. The political process will not and can never be shaken. In fact, the political process is now unshakeable.”

Since the start of last year, dissident groups have mounted 18 gun and bomb attacks.

Mr O’Dowd said of last night’s killing: “This is an attack on the peace process. It is wrong and it is counter-productive and I would extend my condolences to the dead man’s family. As with what happened in Antrim over the weekend, we condemn it. Whoever carried out this shooting was not doing so to advance Irish republican or democratic goals. They have no strategy to deliver a United Ireland.

“This is a time for strong political leadership and cool heads. It is a time for all political parties and the two governments to recommit to the principles which have underpinned the peace process and delivered the stability of recent years.”

David Simpson, Democratic Unionist Party MP for the Upper Bann constituency, where the shooting took place, said: “What we have seen is a deliberate and sustained effort by terrorist murderers to try and drag Northern Ireland back to the worst days of Ulster’s past. I utterly and completely condemn the criminals responsible for this latest outrage and I hope that the vermin responsible for it are brought to justice immediately.

“Events such as the murders at Massereene and this latest terrorist atrocity show us all the need for a swift, co-ordinated and ruthless security and government response.”

A spokesman for the PSNI said that officers were called out to Lismore Manor at about 9.45pm by a member of the public. “Two police vehicles arrived in the area. Both officers alighted from the vehicles. It appears gunshots were fired at them. One officer was struck by gunfire and subsequently he has died from his wounds.”

See Related: THIRD MAN ARRESTED IN NORTHERN IRELAND TERRORIST MURDERS

See Related: SINN FEIN LEADERSHIP TIPTOES THROUGH THE ATROCITY

See Related: SPLINTER IRISH REPUBLICAN GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ARMY BASE KILLINGS

See Related: THE THREAT FROM SPLINTER IRISH REPUBLICAN GROUPS

See Related: TERRRORISTS STRIKE NORTHERN IRELAND BASE – TWO SOLDIERS DEAD – FOUR PEOPLE WOUNDED

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