Two men on trial over soldier murders in N. Ireland

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Two men went on trial in Northern Ireland on Monday accused of gunning down two British soldiers in a republican paramilitary attack outside an army barracks.

Prominent republican Colin Duffy, 43, and Brian Shivers, 46, deny charges of murder and attempted murder over the shootings outside the Massereene army barracks in Antrim, northwest of Belfast, in March 2009.

Patrick Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23, were the first British soldiers to be murdered in the British-ruled province since 1997, and their deaths sparked fears of a resumption of sectarian violence.

At the opening of the trial on Monday, Antrim Crown Court fell silent as CCTV footage of the murders was played.

It showed five soldiers, wearing desert combat gear as they prepared to deploy to Afghanistan within hours, walk out of the base to collect a pizza delivery. Two masked men then appeared and opened fire.

Two soldiers were killed and several other people, including two pizza delivery drivers, were hurt in the attack which was claimed by the Real IRA, a dissident paramilitary group opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.

"On March 7, 2009, a surprise and murderous attack was carried out by terrorists using automatic assault rifles," said lawyer Terence Mooney, as he set out the case for the prosecution.

"The targets were unsuspecting and utterly defenceless soldiers and civilians who were gathered at the entrance gates to the base.

"The nature of the attack and the manner in which it was executed bears the unmistakable stamp of a highly organised and ruthless terrorist attack."

Northern Ireland endured three decades of sectarian bombings and shootings pitting Catholics who wanted the province to join with the Republic of Ireland against Protestants who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The violence largely ended with 1998 peace accords, which paved the way for a power-sharing administration in Belfast, although sporadic attacks continue.

© 2011 AFP

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