IRA Killings Follows Lull In Terrorist Attacks Outside Britain With AM-Netherlands-Ira, Bjt
LONDON (AP) _ The Irish Republican Army’s deadliest attacks on the European continent killed three unarmed British servicemen in the Netherlands Sunday, ending a 14-month lull in IRA assaults outside Northern Ireland.
The shooting and car bombing in which three West German-based British airmen were killed and three were wounded followed the March 6 slaying by British commandos of three unarmed IRA guerrillas in Gibraltar.
Six policemen and soldiers have been killed in Northern Ireland since the Gibraltar slayings and there had been speculation the IRA was plotting a major act of vengeance.
By attacking British servicemen abroad the IRA was reasserting itself as an international terror force.
The Ministry of Defense said the attacks in southern Holland near the West German border were the worst in terms of fatalities carried out by the IRA against British targets on the continent.
Security forces in Northern Ireland have been the primary targets of IRA guerrillas. The predominantly Roman Catholic IRA is fighting to unite Northern Ireland, a British province where Protestants outnumber Catholics 3-2, with the mainly Catholic Republic of Ireland.
British servicemen on duty in Western Europe with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are considered ″soft targets″ because many live off base and tour other areas in their off-hours, usually without arms.
British security forces have been criticized by Britain’s opposition parties, the Irish government and the human rights organization Amnesty International for shooting the three IRA guerrillas in Gibraltar, apparently without trying to arrest them. Government officials have said the three were on a bombing mission.
Defense Secretary George Younger said ″with events of recent times in mind″ the British servicemen killed Sunday were ″totally innocent people″ who were off-duty, unarmed, and had nothing to do with any military operation.
The IRA’s last major attack on the Europeana continent was March 23, 1987. It claimed responsibility for a car-bomb explosion at the British military headquarters in West Germany at Rheindahlen, 9 miles from the Dutch border, which wounded 31 people.
In August 1979, an IRA time-bomb went off under a bandstand in a Brussels square where a British army band was to perform, injuring seven bandsmen and 11 civilians.
In March 1979, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Richard Sykes, was shot to death outside his residence in the Hague. The IRA later claimed responsibility.
The IRA has suffered several setbacks in the past year. Eight IRA guerrillas were slain in an ambush by Britiish army commandos at Loughgall in Northern Ireland in May 1987 and it lost 150 tons of Libyan arms when the trawler Eksund was seized by French authorities last October.
Retired Maj. Gen. Richard Clutterbuck, a specialist on terrorism, said the Holland attacks Sunday would be a ″very easy″ operation for the IRA, noting the servicemens’ cars had British military license plates.
″There’s no shadow of doubt that the German Red Army faction would provide safe houses and other facilities for the IRA if they wanted them, but I don’t think the IRA really needs them in Germany or Holland,″ he said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview.
The IRA is believed to have a strong network of support in The Netherlands. In 1986, Dutch police arrested two IRA guerrillas who had been involved in a 1983 mass escape from Belfast’s Maze prison and had spent several years in Holland.
Younger said everything possible would be done to increase security for British forces abroad.
In a message addressed to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the IRA said ″there will be no haven for your military personnel″ unless Britain leaves Northern Ireland.