Guerrillas of the Irish Republican Army killed Northern Ireland's second-highest judge and his wife Saturday in a bomb blast that turned their car into a fireball.
Six people, including three Irish rugby players, were injured in the bombing that killed Lord Justice Maurice Gibson, 73, and his wife Cecily, 70, as they were driving along a road near the border with the Irish Republic.
In a brief statement issued to news organizations, the outlawed IRA said it "executed" Gibson because he cleared three Northern Ireland policemen of killing an unarmed IRA suspect in 1984.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British province's police force, said the bomb apparently was planted in a car left by the side of the main road from Belfast to Dublin and detonated by remote control as three cars were passing.
The Gibsons had taken the overnight ferry from England to Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin, and were given a police escort to the border Saturday morning. The bomb exploded as they drove between the Northern Ireland border and the main customs post south of Newry in County Down.
Gibson's car took the full blast, blazing like a "ball of fire," said David Irwin, an injured rugby player whose car was hit by the judge's careening vehicle.
"It was so bad we could not see anybody inside," he said. "There was a large crater on the other side of the road. . . .I couldn't get to the occupants of the other car. The flames were too hot."
Police said the bodies of the two victims were burned beyond recognition. However, the British government's Northern Ireland Office confirmed late Saturday that Gibson and his wife were killed.
Pulls Comrades From Car
Irwin, 28, said he pulled fellow rugby players Nigel Carr, 27, and Philip Rainey, 27, from the car he was driving and treated them at the side of the road.
Police said six people--three from Irwin's car and three from another southbound car--were taken to a hospital in Newry and treated for cuts, shock and bruises. Carr, the only one admitted, suffered head, chest and stomach injuries.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a message to the head of the Northern Ireland judiciary expressing "horror" at the killings.
Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey pledged that no effort will be spared to bring the killers to justice. "This horrible act must be condemned by every right-thinking person," he said.
Gibson was ranked below only the lord chief justice of Northern Ireland, Lord Lowry.
He had been a prime IRA target since he acquitted the three Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and commended them for bringing the slain IRA man, Eugene Toman, to what he called "the final court of justice."