IRA shave and daub girl, 16

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A 16-year-old Northern Ireland girl yesterday recounted a terrifying experience, apparently at the hands of the IRA, in which up to five men punched her, hacked off her hair and poured paint over her.

The incident, in Armagh city, was the latest example of the "punishment attacks" which both republican and loyalist groups carry out.

The attack happened as an attempted mortar attack on security force patrols in the Falls Road area of Belfast was aborted by the IRA. The alert was raised when a telephone caller using a recognised IRA code-word warned that a device had been left near Andersonstown RUC station.

After the device was made safe the RUC's west Belfast commander, Ian Williamson, said : "I am angry that a relatively small number of people from Sinn Fein/IRA seem determined to prosecute what can only described as a pathetic, grubby, but lethal little war."

Meanwhile, last night the terrorist group claimed responsibility for the murder of the soldier Stephen Restorick.

The attack on the teenager was reminiscent of the tarring and feathering incidents in the early days of the troubles, when girls and women who associated with soldiers were branded "soldier dolls" by the IRA.

The teenager, Judith Boylan, yesterday spoke of her ordeal in a BBC interview. She said: "It was my first night working in a taxi office. I was sitting there with my sister and two masked men came running in, pulled the counter away, grabbed me by the hair, threw me off the chair and trailed me out by the leg and hair into a taxi they had stolen.

"I thought I was going to die. I didn't know where they were taking me to, I thought they were just going to beat me and leave me somewhere. They covered my nose and mouth and put my head down so I couldn't see. I asked why they were doing it to me: they didn't answer me, they told me to shut up, hit me in the face and head and turned my head away.

"They got me out and one of them had me by the arms. The other man came back with paint and rope and tied my arms to a pole. One man took scissors out and started cutting my hair, then started throwing paint round me."