Suspects questioned over killings, violence erupts

Gangs of youths threw stones and petrol bombs at police after it emerged a prominent republican was one of four people taken in for questioning following the murder of two British soldiers at army barracks near Belfast.


AFP - Police in Northern Ireland were questioning four men on Sunday in connection with the murder of two soldiers, and warned that hundreds of dissidents were aiming to derail the province's peace process.

Earlier on Saturday, gangs of youths threw petrol bombs at police near Belfast after it was revealed that a prominent republican was among the group arrested.

Of the four being questioned over the shooting of the soldiers at Massereene Barracks in Antrim, northwest of Belfast, one man's age was not revealed, while the reamining three were 21, 32 and 41.

According to a police source, the 41-year-old was Colin Duffy, who has distanced himself from Republican party Sinn Fein since it agreed to share power with pro-London unionists.

In the aftermath of his arrest, gangs of masked youths threw stones at police near Duffy's home in Lurgan, southwest of Belfast, and petrol bombs were later thrown at vehicles belonging to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), a police spokesman said.

"Missiles including petrol bombs and stones have been thrown at police at a number of locations in Lurgan," a PSNI spokesman said, adding that one police officer was injured when his arm was struck with a brick, and no petrol bombs had been thrown since around 7:00 pm (1900 GMT).

The spokesman estimated that the youths had numbered around 20, and said that a male in his late teens was arrested but later released, while a male in his early teens had also been arrested.

In an article published in the News of the World on Sunday, PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said that there had been at least 25 attempts by dissident terrorists to kill police officers on and off duty in the past 18 months.

"The current wisdom is that they number around 300 in a population of 1.75 million," Orde wrote, referring to the number of potential attackers.

"They are also very dangerous, like any cornered animal in its death throes."

The Real IRA, a dissident republican group, claimed responsibility for the March 7 attack which killed sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Cengiz "Patrick" Azimkar, 21, in the first such killings for over a decade.

CCTV footage of the attack -- in which four people were also injured in a hail of bullets, when the soldiers stepped outside the barracks to receive a pizza delivery -- has helped detectives hunting the killers.

Four men and a woman were, meanwhile, being questioned over the killing of policeman Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, southwest of Belfast, on Monday, an attack claimed by another republican splinter group, the Continuity IRA.

On Saturday, a police spokesman said that they had seized a gun and ammunition while conducting a search in Craigavon.

The three killings sparked fears of a return to violence a decade after peace accords ended the so-called Troubles that scarred Northern Ireland for 30 years, leaving over 3,500 people dead.

Pro-London Protestant unionists and Catholic Republicans -- who want Northern Ireland united with the neighbouring Republic of Ireland -- struck a landmark deal in 2007 to share power in Belfast.

The Continuity IRA and the Real IRA are both splinter groups of the IRA, which was the military wing of Catholic socialists Sinn Fein, now sharing power with the Democratic Unionists.

The Real IRA was behind Northern Ireland's most deadly attack, the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people.

A memorial service for the two British soldiers -- who were killed just hours before they were due to leave for service in Afghanistan -- was held on Thursday, while Carroll was buried on Friday.

Leaders in Britain and Ireland, which have mediated the peace process over the last decade or more, have vowed that the killings will not derail Northern Ireland's movement back towards normality.

On Wednesday thousands of people joined peace vigils in Belfast and other cities across the province to denounce the killings.

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