BELFAST (AFP) – Police in parts of Northern Ireland have begun wearing flak jackets and carrying rifles for the first time in years following three high-profile killings, they said Sunday.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has returned to arming some of its officers after the fatal shootings of two British soldiers and a police officer within 48 hours of each other in early March.
"Regional commanders will decide where it is appropriate to advise patrols to carry Heckler and Koch rifles," a police spokeswoman said.
One member of a PSNI mobile patrol unit on the Foyle Bridge in Londonderry, an area northwest of the province near the border with the Republic of Ireland, said the practice had become common there.
"All patrols carrying out checkpoints like these in the city of Londonderry have at least one officer armed with a rifle and we are wearing flak jackets," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He added: "After the killings in Masserene (army barracks) and in Lurgan, we were told to start carrying these weapons."
The PSNI spokeswoman confirmed officers have to undergo "specialist training" to use the rifles, explaining: "No officers passing out (qualifying) in the past two years would have been trained in the use of those weapons."
Police are being re-armed only in certain areas, including Lurgan where constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead on March 9.
After the killings, Northern Ireland assembly member Ian Paisley, the son of former first minister Ian Paisley, expressed concern about a shortage of flak jackets for police officers.
"At this time of increased terrorist criminal threat it is vital that our officers feel safe and secure as they serve the community," he said.
Civil strife between the largely Catholic and Protestant communities in the British-ruled province raged for three decades before 1998 peace accords led to power-sharing.
The recent murders were claimed by dissident republicans who reject the peace process and want a united Ireland.
On Saturday, violent clashes also kicked off between rival fans attending a Northern Ireland-Poland football match in Belfast. Four men have been charged with disorderly behaviour in connection with the disturbances. There is a lot of history on the rival "fans" that many don't know about. They are more like gangs then fans. Enough said for now.
(my post on yahoo)