British army planned to kill Real IRA gang after peace process

The 30-year-old is a serving member of the British Army
Connla Young

THE British army was prepared to kill dissident republicans in a ‘shoot-to-kill’ operation years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

In his book 'Charlie One', Seán Hartnett reveals that SAS members attached to his unit were planning to carry out a deadly ambush in Omagh, Co Tyrone, several years after the start of the peace process.

According to the Cork native, the Real IRA had planned to shoot British soldiers based at St Lucia Barracks in the Co Tyrone market town and the SAS were to be lying in wait to kill them.

He claims they were particularly motivated because the special forces believed that one of the Real IRA operatives had previously killed a member of the RUC.

Hartnett (not his real name) did not make clear when the shoot to kill operation was to take place, but he was operating in the north between 2001 and 2004.

The group had planned to use a two-man Real IRA team which would travel to the scene on a motorbike before spraying the soldiers with gunfire at an ATM outside the barracks.

The Real IRA team would then have burn out the motorbike and escape across the border.

The republican group set up the attack after it became aware that soldiers based at the camp regularly visited a cash machine located at a nearby service station because they didn’t want to pay the £1.50 charged by an ATM at their base.

The plan was not dissimilar to a deadly dissident republican attack on Massereene barracks in Antrim, some years later in 2009. Two British soldiers, Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, were killed in an ambush when the Real IRA noticed that the soldiers were in the habit of coming out of the barracks to collect takeaway pizza.

The attempt to kill soldiers at St Lucia barracks was unknown until now.

“The intelligence for the operation had come from a listening device and so was considered solid,” Hartnett reveals.

“That device had been planted in the home of a well-known dissident republican in Tyrone and was giving North Det literally volumes of first-grade intelligence.”

It has been claimed that two SAS men attached to Hartnett’s unit were tasked with bugging an outhouse near Omagh where a motorbike which was due to be used in the attack was being stored.

Hartnett claims he was later told by another SAS man that the Real IRA unit was to be taken out.

“This is the first real opportunity to get him for something since then, but there aren’t going to be any arrests on this one, Seán,” he says he was told.

“That’s why we’re leaving them get to the point where they’re just about to open fire, that way we have just cause to engage them.”

And he adds: "I had always known that the operators at North Det would not shrink from a firefight if one came their way, but this was the first time I had heard them talk about an outright shoot-to- kill policy.

"It was already known that only the pillion passenger would be armed but the Det still planned to shoot the driver, even though he would be unarmed.

"Thoughts of Loughgall sprang to mind and I wondered had the Det really learned anything since then. There was no doubt that they would be able to justify their actions, but that still didn’t make it right!"

The shoot to-kill operation was called off after those involved were unable to start the motorbike on the day the attack was due to take place.

The outhouse containing the motorbike was later destroyed in a petrol bomb attack.

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