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Nun, Three Policemen Killed in Bomb Explosion Near Armagh

July 24, 1990

ARMAGH, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A 1,000-pound bomb detonated by terrorists hiding near a rural road in this border city exploded Tuesday, killing a Roman Catholic nun and three policemen, authorities said.

An anonymous caller claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the Irish Republican Army in North Armagh in a telephone call late Tuesday to a news organization in Belfast.

The caller said the IRA had killed the four people in a ″military action,″ but expressed no regret over the nun’s death.

The slaying of a nun would be seen widely as a major embarrassment for the mainly Catholic IRA, which in recent months has escalated its terror campaign aimed at driving the British out of Northern Ireland.

It was believed to be the first time a Catholic nun has been killed in 21 years of sectarian violence in British-run Northern Ireland, according to Jim Cantwell of the Catholic Press and Information Office.

The terrorist attack - one of the deadliest in Northern Ireland this year -aroused outrage among political and religious leaders on both sides of the Irish border.

″I know all the people of Ireland join me in my condemnation of this atrocity,″ Prime Minister Charles Haughey of the Irish Republic said in Dublin.

The bomb set in a culvert under the road was detonated as an unmarked police car passed a hay field two miles outside Armagh, police said. The nun and a female social worker were approaching in a small car, police said.

The blast hurled the police car into the air. It smashed into a hedge and landed on its roof, apparently killing the three policemen instantly.

″The ground shook beneath us and it was accompanied by a very large explosion,″ said Paul Corr, the owner of a nearby gas station.

″At first we did not see the police car,″ he said. ″The whole place was a terrible mess. Then we saw two young girls in the (mini Metro car). ... They were unconscious and looked in a pretty bad way.″

Corr helped emergency workers from a passing ambulance pull the injured women from their car.

The nun, Sister Catherine Dunne, died later in a hospital. Her companion, whose name was not released, was listed in satisfactory condition, police said. No ages were available for the two women.

″There was nothing we could do for the policemen,″ added Corr. ″Nobody could have come out of that car alive. It was dreadful.″

The Royal Ulster Constabulary officers who died in the attack were identified by police as William Hanson, 37; David Sterritt, 34, and 35-year- old Joshua Willis. Two of the officers were married, one with four children and the other with two.

The powerful explosion tore a crater 6-feet in diameter in the two-lane Killylea Road, near the border with the Republic of Ireland. The type of explosive used was not known, police said.

Police and troops rushed reinforcements to the border area to search for the attackers. The area is considered prime territory for operations by the IRA.

In Belfast, a police spokesman said an unknown number of gunmen took over a house about 400 yards from the road early Tuesday and held a married couple and their children at gunpoint until shortly before the 2 p.m. attack.

Police said a detonating wire ran from the bomb through a freshly cut hayfield to near the house.

The bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack in Northern Ireland since an IRA bomb killed four soldiers of the locally recruited Ulster Defense Regiment on April 9.

It follows a spate of recent attacks by the IRA on British targets in England and continental Europe.

On Friday, a bomb caused extensive damage to London’s Stock Exchange, but no injuries were reported. A telephone caller had warned of an IRA bombing.

In Armagh, the ancient religious capital of Ireland, church leaders condemned the latest attack. The town is the seat of both the Catholic and Anglican churches throughout Ireland, north and south.

″I am disgusted,″ declared the Most Rev. Robin Eames, the Anglican primate of Ireland.

″My reaction is one of absolute horror that somebody ... fulfilling their own calling as a nun has been murdered in what is one more indiscriminate attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary.″

In Belfast, Britain’s minister for security in Northern Ireland, John Cope, said, ″I have no doubt that we shall hear talk about mistakes and about legitimate targets and so on. ... Nobody deserves to be attacked in this way.″

Earlier this year, the IRA expressed regret after gunmen shot dead two Australian tourists who had been mistaken for British soldiers outside a restaurant in Holland on May 27.

The slain nun was a member of the Sisters of St. Louis, an order of about 300 nuns throughout Ireland.

Nearly 3,000 people have been killed since sectarian violence erupted in Northern Ireland in 1969 and the British government sent in troops.

The IRA, outlawed on both sides of the border, is fighting to unite Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland with the overwhelmingly Catholic Republic of Ireland under a socialist government.

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