IRA kill two in Belfast shooting: Police open fire on getaway car as gunmen flee - Both victims are leading loyalist paramilitaries

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TWO MEN, both leading loyalist paramilitaries, were murdered in a hail of gunfire in Northern Ireland last night. The IRA later claimed responsibility for the killings.

Police who were on the scene within seconds of the attack in the Ormeau Road area of south Belfast followed the two gunmen in a high-speed chase in which one officer fired shots at the attackers.

Security forces sealed off a number of streets in an effort to track down the gunmen and a third terrorist, who drove the getaway car.

The dead men, confirmed as Raymond Elder and Joe Bratty, had close links with the UDA and UFF and had each survived previous assassination attempts in the area, where Protestants and Catholics live cheek-by-jowl and which has seen many shootings.

Moments before last night's shooting, the men had come out of the Kimberley bar near the Ormeau Road as they did every Sunday evening at about the same time. The gunmen, wearing black hoods and white boiler suits, had been waiting in a white Bedford van for the men, as they approached their car which was parked on the Ormeau Road.

One resident, who was in an upstairs room of his house, heard the shots and looked out. He said: 'It sounded like 30 or 40 shots, but a police inspector who came along later said that more than 100 rounds had been fired. When they were shooting you could hear it bouncing off the pavement . . . I looked out of the window and I saw one of the men fall near the bank. The other was done on the other side of the road near the railings.'

Both victims were taken to Belfast's City Hospital where one was pronounced dead on arrival. The other died shortly afterwards from his injuries.

Immediately after the shooting, police in an unmarked blue Cavalier patrol car chased the terrorists, who were in a red Sierra, along the Lower Ormeau Road into Hatfield Street where another witness saw the officer who was driving fire his pistol from his window.

The two officers managed to stop the red car at the bottom of Hatfield Street, where more shots were fired before the officers were surrounded by what the RUC described as a 'hostile' crowd. Early this morning parts of Ormeau Road and Hatfield Street were still sealed off as security forces checked the area.

Last night, Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, gave his reaction to the killings, the first in the Province since Sinn Fein effectively rejected the Downing Street Declaration. 'It shows that the so- called peace process is about killing as many Protestants as they can; killing as many soldiers and policemen as they can. It shows the sheer hypocrisy of the IRA. I do not think there is any doubt that the IRA is hoping to extract as many concessions as possible by violence. We have to face the reality that the more the Provisional IRA does, the more retaliation there will be from loyalist paramilitaries.'