IRA sniper unit killed 11 soldiers and police in Armagh

 

SINCE THE first of 10 British soldiers and RUC was killed by the sniper in south Armagh almost three years ago, there has been a desperate attempt to track down the IRA team responsible.

The unit was known to operate from a "mobile platform" - an improvised armoured saloon car with a gun mount in the back - which made it almost undetectable.

After the attacks, which resulted in 11 deaths (including one in Fermanagh), in only 14 or 15 operations, the sniper was driven away leaving no shells or forensic contamination.

It had been known that the IRA was intent on stepping up its sniping activities since the late 1980s - when a number of Armagh men were arrested by the FBI in Arizona, as they tried to buy a large amount of military equipment, including Barrett "Light Fifty" .50 sniping rifles.

One of these weapons, which has a range of 2,000 metres, was found in the Central Sorting Office in Dublin in 1986, after an attempt to post it in parts to a Dublin address.

Other sniping rifles, probably the Russian Druganov which was widely used in the conflict in former Yugoslavia, reached the IRA - and the tactics for the sniping unit were developed by 1992.

The sniper's first victim was Pte Paul Turner, shot dead at a checkpoint outside Crossmaglen in August 1992. Three months later RUC Constable Alan Corbett was shot at Belcoo, Co Fermanagh.

Cpl Jonathan Reed was shot dead at Crossmaglen in February 1993 and Lance Cpl Lawrence Dickson was shot dead at Forkhill on St Patrick's Day.

Among the other victims murdered between June and July 1993 were five security force members - Pte John Randall; Lance Cpl Kevin Fuller; Reserve Constable Brian Woods; Lance Bombardier Paul Garrett and Guardsman Daniel Blinco were shot dead in south Armagh. Four other security force members narrowly missed being killed.

The sniping killings stopped in, 1994, coming up to the IRA ceasefire, and the sniping unit did not return to action last year after the ceasefire collapsed, because of an IRA order to its units not to take part in "offensive" actions. This order was dropped, amidst claims of a threatened split, last December and the sniping unit was reassembled.

On February 13th it struck again, killing Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, a young career soldier at a road checkpoint. Another soldier survived an attack in the same area two weeks ago.

However, the IRA sniping unit in south Armagh has apparently inspired other IRA brigades to imitate it, and on Thursday the RUC Reserve Constable Alice Collins was shot and severely injured by a sniper operating from the back of a van in the centre of Derry.