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Paramilitary violence returns to Northern Ireland

Thousands of people demonstrated in Northern Ireland to show their outrage at the murders of two soldiers and a policeman.

Thousands of people demonstrated in Northern Ireland to show their outrage at the murders of two soldiers and a policeman perpetrated by paramilitary groups.

Two British soldiers were shot dead and four other men were seriously wounded in a drive-by ambush at the gates of Massereene Barracks in Antrim on March 7th 2009.

At least two men with automatic guns fired a hail of more than 60 bullets at the soldiers as they were collecting a pizza delivery. The victims were soldiers in their early 20s who were about to be deployed in Afghanistan.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the "Real IRA", a breakaway Republican group with a history of violence. The "Real IRA" were allegedly behind the 1998 Omagh car bombing that killed 29 people.

Forty-eight hours after the Massereene attack, a police constable with less than two years to go until retirement was shot in the head in Craigavon. The killing was claimed by a different paramilitary splinter group, the "Continuity IRA."

The killings, the worst in more than a decade in Northern Ireland, were committed to try and undermine the Peace Process and the Unionist-Republican devolved administration in Stormont.

In 1998 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agreed to the Good Friday peace accord and eventually decommissioned its weapons in 2005, but marginal splinter groups refused to renounce violence.

The killings have led to an unprecedented wave of condemnation by all politicians and community leaders.

Northern Ireland's First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson said: "These murders were a futile act by those who command no public support and have no prospect of success in their campaign. It will not succeed."

"I offer my sympathy to the families of those who were killed or injured and make it clear that we will not be diverted from the direction which Northern Ireland has taken", told Mr Robinson.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader himself, called the dissidents "traitors to the island of Ireland."

Sinn Féin's president Gerry Adams, who supported the IRA attacks in the past, stated "Last night’s attack was an attack on the peace process."

Ireland's Taoiseach Brian Cowen said: "A tiny group of evil people cannot, and will not, undermine the will of the people of Ireland to live in peace together."

Ireland's main opposition party leader, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, said: "We have grown accustomed to a peace that has allowed all communities on the island to look to the future with optimism. This brutal assault last night is a throwback to a period that we all hoped was in our past."

The police investigating the deaths of the two soldiers and the police officer have arrested two males in connection with the crime.

On March 12th, thousands of people across Northern Ireland demonstrated silently to express their outrage at the murders and show that the attacks have united republicans and unionists against violence as never before.

More than 3,600 people have been killed in Northern Ireland since the Troubles began in 1969.

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