LONDON -- The Irish Republican Army killed six British soldiers in Northern Ireland yesterday after holding families hostage and forcing civilians to drive car bombs into two military checkpoints.
One of the drivers was killed; another escaped after shouting an alarm. More than 30 people were injured in the attacks. A third attack, in which the driver was roped to his seat, failed when the bomb did not explode.
The coordinated attacks appeared to be designed to demonstrate the IRA's capacity to strike military targets in the province following a period when it concentrated on England and the European continent.
It was the first time in almost 10 years that the IRA had used such carefully coordinated attacks against widely scattered targets.
"Proxy bombing," in which innocent civilians are used to deliver the explosives, gives no warning to security forces that the approaching car is a threat.
Seamus Mallon, a leader of the Roman Catholic moderates in Northern Ireland, said: "Proxy bombing is the most lethal form of bombing because it is the most hard to detect."
The worst impact was in Londonderry, where five soldiers were killed. In that incident, the driver of the car, whose family had been held hostage in their home by four masked gunmen, died in the explosion.
The blast leveled a concrete search bay, twisted a metal fence and scattered rubble across the road.
The IRA gunmen were believed to have escaped in the car belonging to the hostage family. It was later found abandoned.
In Newry, another man was forced to drive a car bomb to a roadside checkpoint on the main Belfast-Dublin road while his family was held at gunpoint. The driver, who shouted a warning at the checkpoint, broke a leg when he jumped from the car seconds before it blew up. One soldier was killed.
In the third attack, in Omagh, gunmen packed a family's trailer home with 200 pounds of explosives and forced the owner to drive it into the Lisanelly army camp while his wife and child were held at gunpoint.
The driver was strapped to the seat. He drove into the camp and shouted a warning. There was a small explosion, believed to have been the detonator, but the main device failed to explode.
All the hostage families were released unharmed.
The IRA said the civilians it used in the attacks were "collaborators" who had done construction work for British security forces.
It termed the attacks a "military operation, [which] devastates the myth of containment." This was a reference to British military claims that the IRA's activities in the province were being restricted by tight security, forcing it to attack softer targets in England and Europe.
"Until the British government ends their futile war in Ireland, attacks such as this morning's will continue," the IRA statement said.