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british special forces » special air service » sas operations » northern ireland - counter sniper operations
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Special Air Service (SAS) - Counter Sniper Operations - Northern Ireland

Between 1990 and 1997 an IRA sniper team operating in South Armagh, Northern Ireland, killed 7 soldiers and 2 policemen before a joint SAS and 14 Company operation put a stop to their reign of terror.

Following intelligence that the IRA were using farms as bases of operations / weapons caches, the Police, assisted by Army intelligence operatives, began a series of surveillance and search operations. A farm complex by the village of Crossmaglen in South Armagh fell under suspicion and was put under surveillance. A Mazda 626 car from the farm complex was also put under surveillance via attached hidden tracking devices.

In February 1997, British soldier, Stephen Restorick, was shot at a Crossmaglen Vehicle Checkpoint (VCP) by a large caliber bullet. 14 Company had been electronically tracking the Mazda and had realised that it had been stationary and in range at the time of the shooting. A subsequent close reconnaissance of the Mazda confirmed that it had been adapted for use as a mobile sniper platform. These modifications included a sliding armoured plate in the boot, through which the rifle could be aimed and fired, the gunman laying hidden within the car.

mazda 626 car
The IRA sniper unit used a Mazda 626, like the one pictured above, as a mobile shooting platform
barrett light fifty rifle
The.50 caliber Barrett Light Fifty fired rounds that could penetrate body armour from a long distance away.

The Army's 14 Intelligence Company (the DET) began a painstaking intelligence gathering operation to ascertain the identities of the snipers and locate their weapon. Hidden cameras were secreted around the suspect farm. Over a period of several weeks, the identities of the IRA cell were established and they were all closely monitored.

On the 10th of April, 1997, 4 IRA suspects were observed preparing the Mazda for an operation. It was decided to move in and arrest the team. An SAS unit drove at high speed into the farm complex aboard a transit van, leaped out and arrested the 4 IRA men at gunpoint. The sniper rifle, a .50 caliber Barrett (L82a1) was found hidden in the roof of a horsebox. Supplies of ammunition for the weapon were also discovered.

The men arrested, Micheal Caraher, Bernard McGinn, Seamus McArdle, and Martin Mines were convicted of various terrorist offenses but were later released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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