Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Shot soldiers 'were magnificent'

Brigadier George Norton said the soldiers were killed in a "callous and clinical attack"

Tributes have been paid to two soldiers shot dead by the Real IRA in County Antrim.

Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham and Patrick Azimka, 21, from Wood Green, London, died at Massereene Army base in Antrim on Saturday.

The Army commander in Northern Ireland said the two soldiers had been "magnificent individuals".

Brigadier George Norton said the men had been killed in a "callous and clinical" attack.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the base and met NI political leaders on Monday. He said the peace process was "unshakeable".

"What I've seen this morning is the unity of the people of Northern Ireland, and the unity of the political parties," he said.

"That they are going to continue to work together and they want to send out a message to the world - as I do - that the political process will not and never be shaken.

"In fact, the political process is now unshakeable."

Four other people, including two pizza delivery men - Anthony Watson, 19, from Antrim and a Polish man in his 30s - were injured in Saturday's attack.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the NI political process is 'unshakeable'

One of the delivery men is in a serious condition in hospital. It is understood the others are in a stable condition.

The rest of 38 Engineer Regiment has now left the base and gone to Afghanistan.

"They will not allow the actions of a few loathsome individuals to distract them from the job in hand," Brigadier Norton said.

The Army commander was asked why no fire had been returned from the base during the attack.

"Are you suggesting that people should have fired into a closely packed group including my five soldiers," he said.

"Both the guard service and the soldiers did everything that they could possibly do to save the lives of those who had been shot, including obviously the pizza delivery individuals, and I'm delighted by the way they responded but in no way surprised."

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward is due to make a statement about the murders in Parliament later.

The two young soldiers were the first to be murdered in Northern Ireland in 12 years. Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick was killed by an IRA sniper in 1997.

Patrick Azimka and Mark Quinsey

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the murders were "an attack on the peace process".

"It was wrong. It was counter-productive.

"My thoughts are with the families of the two men who were killed and who were injured," he said.

"And you might take some succour from the fact that whoever was involved, they have no support and no strategy and no popular will to back up their actions."

The attack has forced a review of security at police and military bases in Northern Ireland.

Police have been examining a car in Randalstown, five miles from the army base, which they suspect may have been used by the gunmen.

The Real IRA was born out of a split in the mainstream Provisional IRA in October 1997.

It carried out Northern Ireland's worst atrocity when it bombed the County Tyrone town of Omagh, killing 29 people, in August 1998.

The partner of one of the injured men, who is Polish, and his 16-month-old son live in Antrim. Other members of his family are expected to fly into Northern Ireland today.

Jerome Mullan, the honorary Polish consul in Northern Ireland, said: "He was just here earning a living and now he finds himself caught up in this shocking, disgraceful business."

Northern Ireland's First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson offered his sympathies to the families of the victims.

Speaking to the Assembly on Monday, he said it was "a futile act and a terrible waste".

"The events of Saturday evening were a throwback to a previous era. We must never return to such terrible days," he said.

"The police need the support and cooperation of the entire community."

"Let the answer be loud and clear: We are not turning back."

Irish Catholic bishops have called the shooting a "direct and heinous attack on the sanctity of human life and on efforts to build an agreed political way forward in Northern Ireland".

In a statement released at their spring general meeting, they urged the community to redouble their efforts to pursue justice and reconciliation through "the patient dialogue of the political process".

Map: Massereene barracks attack
1. Soldiers order pizza from delivery shop in Antrim. Two cars leave shop at about 2120 GMT
2. Four soldiers collect pizza from main gate at Massereene Barracks. As they do, two gunmen open fire from a nearby car. Two soldiers - Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimka, 21 - are killed, four people seriously injured including the pizza delivery men
3. Vauxhall Cavalier which police believe the gunmen to have used recovered in Ranaghan Road, nr Randalstown

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