Two gunmen jumped out of a stolen car and opened fire with automatic weapons at a village garage near here Tuesday afternoon, killing the garage owner and two elderly men standing with him, the police reported.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that the garage owner’s wife and teen-age children are believed to have witnessed the attack--and that the gunmen cheered as they drove off.
The Irish Republican Army, in a statement to the local news media, took responsibility for the killings. The statement said the garage was a stronghold of the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force, an armed Protestant group. But police said the shooting was “indiscriminate.”
The incident occurred in Coagh, about 50 miles west of here, and was the latest in what Northern Ireland security authorities describe as a worrisome spate of tit-for-tat sectarian violence in which 16 people have been killed this year.
Coagh is a predominantly Protestant village identified with the majority of the people in Northern Ireland who want to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
The Ulster Volunteer Force claimed responsibility last month for killing John Joe Davey, a town councilor from the same general area who represented the nationalist Sinn Fein party. Sinn Fein, which wants the British out of Northern Ireland, is the legal political arm of the outlawed IRA.
Tuesday’s shooting was considered noteworthy because of an IRA pledge to “refine” its activities after a year in which its operatives killed 23 civilians in bungled attacks.
Sinn Fein leader Jerry Adams told a party conference in Dublin five weeks ago that there had been “an exceptional and regrettable level of civilian casualties arising from IRA operations” in 1988.
The IRA is believed to be responsible for killing 33 soldiers and 6 policemen in the province last year. Illegal Protestant groups are blamed for 22 killings.
The police said that at least three men drove up to Leslie Dallos’ garage in Coagh shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday in a red Vauxhall auto that had been stolen shortly before. Two of the men jumped out and sprayed the garage with gunfire.
Dallos was killed instantly, as was 72-year-old Ernie Rankin, a pensioner, according to the police. A second pensioner, Austin Nelson, 61, died of wounds on the way to a hospital.
Nelson, a former truck driver, had taken up violin-making in retirement and was featured on a local television newscast Monday evening. He said he hoped that through his hobby he could make a lasting contribution to the world.
Garage owner Dallos was described as a drag-racing enthusiast in his early 40s. His wife was reportedly visiting the garage at the time of the shooting. His teen-age children were among a group of youngsters who witnessed the killings as they were getting off a school bus nearby.
Arms, Ammo Discovered
In a related development, authorities in northern England reported Tuesday that they had found a cache of arms and ammunition and a large quantity of high-explosive Semtex buried in a wooded area near the seaside town of Scarborough.
Officials pointed out that in 10 days Scarborough is to be the site of a conference of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party and that Thatcher is expected to attend.
In 1984, IRA assassins bombed the hotel where Thatcher and members of her Cabinet were staying in Brighton during a Conservative Party convention. Five people were killed in the explosion, but the prime minister was not injured.
There have been a number of other IRA bombings in recent months aimed at military targets in England. The police have uncovered other caches of explosives, which the IRA is believed to have acquired through Libya.