Off-duty soldier killed by IRA booby-trap bomb: Car attack follows widely-condemned shooting of Catholic pensioner at his Belfast home

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The Independent Online
AN off-duty soldier in County Londonderry was killed by the IRA yesterday following the loyalist shooting of a Catholic pensioner in Belfast.

Private Christopher Wren, 34, a part-time member of the Royal Irish Regiment, was killed when a bomb exploded under his car as he drove along a road near his home town of Moneymore yesterday afternoon. He was married with a daughter.

The killing was widely condemned, as was that of a 65-year-old Catholic, Eddie McHugh, who was shot at his east Belfast home shortly before midnight on Sunday. Gunmen burst into his living room and opened fire on him as he watched television, then escaped on a stolen motorcycle.

Mr McHugh's death was met by condemnation from Unionist political figures, which was unusual in that many Catholic assassinations at the hands of loyalists go unmarked by Unionist comment.

In this case the loyalist victim was distinguished by his age and local reputation, in the predominantly Protestant district where he lived.

His killing was claimed by the Red Hand Commandos, a small but violent loyalist faction which alleged Mr McHugh was involved in republican terrorism.

This was convincingly denied by both the McHugh family and by security force sources. The dead man's son, Gerard, said his father was a hardworking man who lived for his family, his baby grandson, and golf.

He said: 'We have lived here all our lives and got on great with our neighbours. Dad lived here for 23 years and there's absolutely no way we were involved in anything political, never mind anything else.'

Condemnation was led by the Reverend Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist party, who said the killers were 'brutal bigots'.

He said the suddenness and barbarity of the killing had been a terrific shock to the family, while the whole neighbourhood was revolted by the accusation that Mr McHugh was involved in terrorism.

Asked why he believed Mr McHugh had been killed, Mr Paisley replied: 'It could be mistaken identity or it could just be to kill a Roman Catholic.'

Sir James Kilfedder, the North Down Popular Unionist MP, said after visiting the family home that he was appalled by the crime. He said the people who carried it out intended to bring grief and anguish to the family, and to spread fear in an area where the vast majority of people lived in religious harmony.