Claims of responsibility have been made in the name of both the Real IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann for a gun attack on a British Army base on Saturday night which left two British soldiers dead.
Two soldiers were shot dead while in full combat fatigues outside Massareene Army base in County Antrim. Two other soldiers and two service workers were also injured in the attack, which occurred as a food delivery was being made at the base.
It is the first attack on members of the Crown forces in over six months and the first death at a British Army base in over six years. Prior to Saturday night, a British soldier had not been killed on active service in Ireland for over 12 years.
The incident came days after PSNI police chief Hugh Orde warned that an armed action was likely and just 48 hours after it was revealed that an infamous Special Forces military unit, linked to a series of state killings, had been drafted back into the North of Ireland.
Support for republican armed groups has been growing steadily in recent months as the political process has appeared to stall and founder. Hugh Orde had repeatedly warned that the various republican groups were becoming more organised and effective, and that an attack was inevitable.
However, Orde had predicted a strike against a relatively 'soft' target such as the PSNI itself. Instead, the attack came against highly trained British soldiers at a heavily fortified military base defended by specialist armed security guards.
Initial reports of an exchange of gunfire have been denied by British officials. It is now believed that the guards on duty were disarmed by an initial, long-range burst of gunfire before the IRA unit made its assault, resulting in the two bursts of gunfire reported by local residents.
The British Prime minister Gordon Brown said today he was "shocked and outraged" at what he said was "an evil and cowardly attack" against "soldiers serving their country".
But there was also shock within the British establishment that the Volunteers involved had managed to breach the base's tight defences and, in particular, that there had been no return of fire. There was also concern that the number of casualties and fatalities could have been greater.
In the claim made in the name of the Real IRA's South Antrim brigade, the group said it made "no apology for targeting British soldiers" while they remained in occupation in the Six Counties.
The caller, using a codeword, also said that the two food workers had been targeted as "collaborators of British rule in Ireland".
One of the injured workers was Polish, and there was some controversy that migrant workers may be unaware of the dangers involved in providing services to the British Army in Ireland.
None of those wounded were said to be in a serious condition, and all are expected to make a full recovery.
Meanwhile, a caller who claimed the attack for Oglaigh na hEireann said it was made in the name of "the Volunteers of the hunger strike martyrs battalion" and in response to the return to Ireland of Britain's 'elite' Special Reconnaissance Regiment.
Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, a former member of the [Provisional] IRA, said there should be no return to conflict.
"I supported the IRA during the conflict, I myself was a member of the IRA but that war is over," said the Sinn Fein MP.
"Now the people responsible for that last night's incident are clearly signalling that they want to resume or restart that war."
Ruairi O Bradaigh, president of Republican Sinn Fein, said that his party had long warned that while the British government and British occupation troops remain in Ireland "there will be Irish people to oppose their presence here".
He said "everyone regretted loss of life" but added that the "hard realities of the situation in Ireland must be faced".
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams described the shooting as "an attack on the peace process". He said it was wrong as well as counter-productive to republican goals.
"Irish republicans and democrats have a duty to oppose this and to defend the peace process. Sinn Fein has a strategy to bring about an end to British rule in our country by peaceful and democratic means."
"There should be an end to actions like the one in Antrim last night. The popular will is for peaceful and democratic change."
"Sinn Fein has a responsibility to be consistent. The logic of this is that we support the police in the apprehension of those involved in last nights attack."
"The police also have a responsibility to give leadership and to behave at all times in a transparent and accountable manner. The British Government has a duty to uphold the new political arrangement and the peace process."
"I particularly want to appeal to republicans once again for calm, thoughtful and decisive leadership. "
"The peace process was built against the odds and not least because of the willingness of republicans to take risks and to be strategic and long sighted."
"There are elements within Unionism and within the British system who do not want the peace process to achieve its objectives. Our responsibility is to defend the peace process and the progress that has been made to achieving national and democratic rights."