The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility Saturday for shooting to death two British soldiers, one in England the other in West Germany.
British and Irish government officials condemned Friday night's double killing, and warned the public to be on guard against further IRA assassination attempts.The twin attacks in different countries were seen as a deliberate IRA demonstration of its ability to strike against "soft" British military targets at will.
Officials also feared that they marked a new phase in the IRA's campaign to undermine Britain's determination to stay in Ulster as long as the majority of voters there support allegiance to London.
For the first time since the 1970s, the IRA switched from bombs to bullets for their latest assassination on the English mainland. Two masked men opened fire on a group of young army recruits waiting at a railroad station, crowded with commuters, in the town of Lichfield. Three soldiers were hit. One, age 19, died.
Hours later, in Dortmund, West Germany, a 34-year-old British officer was shot in the head as he drove home with his wife. IRA gunmen have previously operated in West Germany, Holland and Belgium.
Security forces have known that several "active service" units of the IRA were operating on the continent and in England, but they were believed to be working independently. The IRA gunmen are believed to have established residence on the continent and in England, and to be supported by sympathizers.
The carefully timed twin killings suggest a new degree of cross-channel co-ordination, and they bolster the fear that the outlawed Republican paramilitaries are planning a long hot summer for British security forces throughout Europe.