Church Leaders Condemn 'Deplorable' Soldier Killings

The murder of two soldiers outside their army barracks in Northern Ireland Saturday night is "deeply distressing and deplorable," says the Most Rev. Alan Harper, the Archbishop of Armagh.

The soldiers, from the 38 Engineer Regiment, were shot dead outside the Massereene Barracks in County Antrim as they collected pizzas from delivery men at the gates of the base. They were killed just hours before they were due to leave for a six-month deployment in Afghanistan. The attack has also left two Domino's delivery men seriously injured.

The Real IRA, the dissident republican group behind the Omagh bombing, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Archbishop Harper said in a statement: "It has been clear for some time that there are forces of evil intent on destabilizing our community and returning to days of confrontation such as we knew in the past but have been steadily working to move beyond.

"Across our community, efforts must be redoubled to create a respectful and inclusive society that ensures that there is no place in our midst for agents of terror. We remember those affected by this incident as we continue to pray for a sustained peace."

The Bishop of Connor, the Rt. Rev. Alan Abernethy, called the attack "an act of evil that cannot be justified."

"This tragic event is a reminder to us of how much we all still have to do to pursue peace," he said. "We are still a deeply divided society. Politicians, church people and communities have much to do together so that we are not deflected by evil and to ensure that our words and actions speak only of peace."

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is treating the attack as attempted mass murder. MI5, which has warned of an attack for months, is also involved in the investigation.

Chief Superintendent Derek Williamson of the PSNI said, "The gunmen, having fired an initial volley of shots, moved forward when people were on the ground and fired additional shots at those people on the ground, so it was a very, very callous and very ruthless attack."