BONN — Three off-duty British servicemen based in West Germany were slain and three more were wounded in the Netherlands on Sunday, and the outlawed Irish Republican Army later claimed responsibility.
The victims were attacked in two separate incidents while they were on weekend passes during May Day festivities in the Netherlands, just across the border from their Royal Air Force base in West Germany.
One airman was killed and two were wounded when their car was raked by submachine-gun fire in the town of Roermond in southern Holland.
Half an hour later and 30 miles north, in the hamlet of Nieuwbergen, two airmen were killed and one was badly injured when a bomb exploded in their car as they got into it after leaving a discotheque.
The disco is a haunt for off-duty British servicemen, and the nearby streets in the early hours were filled with people marking Queen Beatrix's 50th birthday, celebrated over the weekend.
Only one of the slain men was immediately identified. He was Senior Aircraftsman Ian Shinner, 20, who was killed in the Roermond attack.
The attacks, for which the IRA in Belfast, Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility, were apparently in retaliation for the March slaying of three IRA guerrillas in Gibraltar.
British sources have reported that the slaying of the IRA guerrillas, who were allegedly intent on placing a bomb in the British colony at the tip of Spain, was carried out in an ambush set up by members of the British army's top-secret, anti-terrorist arm, the Special Air Service.
And a recent, controversial British television program quoted witnesses in Gibraltar as saying that the IRA militants--two men and a woman--were killed while trying to surrender.
According to the BBC in Belfast, an IRA caller issued a statement warning British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: "Disengage from Ireland and there will be peace," adding that if Britain doesn't disengage, "there will be no haven for your military personnel and you will regularly be at airports awaiting your dead."
This was an apparent reference to the prime minister's recent receiving of the coffins of two British soldiers, slain during an IRA funeral in Belfast, when their bodies were flown back to England.
The IRA is seeking to drive the British from predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland and unite it with the mainly Roman Catholic Irish Republic.
Briton 'Appalled' by Attacks
After Sunday's attack, British Defense Secretary George Younger said that he was "appalled" by the incidents.
He said that security measures for British forces in West Germany will be reviewed, but he emphasized that the servicemen--off-duty, in civilian clothes and unarmed--could never be fully protected against terrorist attacks.
The dead men, Younger added, were "just totally innocent people, murdered outside the law."
In Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey declared: "I totally condemn the killing by the IRA of British soldiers in the Netherlands."
He added: "I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the relatives of those killed and the injured."
Members of RAF Regiment
All the servicemen were based at the large Wildenrath RAF base close to the Dutch border, and most were members of the Royal Air Force Regiment, which has Rapier missiles to protect the base from enemy air attack.
In Roermond, a local press photographer, Fer Trouwgod, told Reuters news agency that about 1 a.m., a passing car sprayed the servicemen's small Volkswagen with bullets.
"They really turned that car into a sieve," he said. "The driver had the whole left side of his face ripped off by the impact of the bullets."
Witnesses said that about 25 to 30 bullet holes were counted in the car.
And in Nieuwbergen, observers said that the car blew up in a large fireball in a parking lot near the Bacchus disco patronized by British servicemen about 1:30 a.m.
Area Sealed Off
Afterward, police sealed off the area and evacuated nearby houses for most of Sunday, and British anti-terrorist specialists were flown in to help with the investigation.
Dutch police said they believe that both cars in which the victims were riding had British license plates.
Police said the search for the attackers will be difficult because the southern sliver of the Netherlands allows easy access to Belgium and West Germany.
In 1979, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, Richard Sykes, and an aide were assassinated by the IRA in The Hague.
Last year, 33 people were injured when the IRA exploded a car bomb outside a British military barracks in West Germany.