Special Forces may have sparked assault
Monday 09 March 2009
The decision of the Northern Ireland police chief, Sir Hugh Orde, to deploy undercover British special forces against dissident republicans highlighted the controversial and emotive history of the troops during the Troubles.
Nationalists have repeatedly accused the SAS of conducting a dirty war, including assassinations, during the years of violence. Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister and former IRA leader, described the move as "stupid and dangerous". One theory is that Saturday's attack, for which the Real IRA has claimed responsibility, was a response to Sir Hugh's announcement.
The unit deployed, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), was formed four years ago with the specific aim of targeting international terrorism. However, the core membership is drawn from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and Signals Regiment and many would have seen previous service in Ulster. Much of the covert-intelligence gathering skills of the SRR have also been honed in the province.
The 400-strong group was the first regiment-sized special forces unit to be formed for nearly 50 years. They have their headquarters, like the SAS, in Hereford and fall under the command of the Director of Special Forces.
Members of the SRR were put on the ground in Northern Ireland after a car bomb weighing 300lb was found at Castlewellan in County Down. Their main function, according to defence sources, was to carry out deep cover surveillance, including electronic eavesdropping, rather than take part in immediate offensive operations. "It wasn't a question of them kicking down doors and shooting people in the middle of the night" insisted a senior officer "but providing some much needed intelligence for the police."
The SRR had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members were on duty in Basra taking part in an operation to rescue special forces soldiers seized by Shia militiamen in September 2005. They have also been involved in the freeing of hostage Norman Kember in March 2006 and the so far unsuccessful attempts to free five Britons who were seized from the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in 2007.
In Afghanistan, troops from the SRR deployed to Helmand and Kandahar and are said to have played a vital role in a series of operations, a so-called decapitation campaign, in which Taliban leaders were killed. The unit's main role on those occasions was to gather information on the movement of the targets.
The SRR was also reported to have been involved in the operation which led to the killing of innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes after the 7/7 bombings in London. Members were said to be providing "technical support" for Scotland Yard anti-terrorist officers.
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, GAME, PC World and Argos
Dr Lam Hoe Yeoh: Voyeur doctor jailed for eight years after using network of hidden cameras to film patients, colleagues and friends on the toilet
'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Michael Buerk wishes he'd killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Ed Miliband's 'north London set' must be demolished to save Labour, say critics
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he'd killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship