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2 face trial for killing British soldiers outside base in N. Ireland

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Colin Duffy and Brian Shivers will be tried next month for the killing of two UK soldiers
  • Two masked gunmen shot dead the British troops, just before they left for Afghanistan
  • Lawyers for Duffy, an ex-IRA prisoner, claimed there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute
  • The attack was the first since the landmark 1998 Good Friday Agreement

(CNN) -- A Northern Ireland court gave the go-ahead Thursday for the trial of two men charged with shooting dead two British soldiers last year.

Colin Duffy, 43, was among several suspects arrested in March 2009, days after two masked gunmen with automatic rifles shot dead soldiers Cengiz "Pat" Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23, at the Massereene Barracks in Northern Ireland. The two troops were about to depart for duty in Afghanistan, having already packed their bags and changed into their desert uniforms.

Years ago, Duffy spent time in jail for his prominent role with the Irish Republican Army, which for years pushed -- sometimes violently -- for Northern Ireland to become independent of Great Britain.

Lawyers for Duffy had questioned whether there was enough evidence to prosecute the Lurgan, Northern Ireland, native. But the court decided otherwise, and Duffy's trial, along with co-defendant Brian Shivers, 45, is scheduled to start January 2011 at Belfast Crown Court.

Azimkar and Quinsey were gunned down as pizza was being delivered to the military base in County Antrim, authorities said. Two other soldiers and the two pizza delivery men were seriously wounded.

The killings were the first targeting British troops in the province for over 12 years, dating to the landmark Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In 30 years prior to that, about 3,600 people had been killed in sectarian violence between British authorities and independent-minded activists in Northern Ireland.

At the time, the Real IRA, a militant independent group that splintered away from the Irish Republican Army, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. The IRA's political arm, Sinn Fein, helped negotiate the Good Friday pact.

There have been sporadic incidents since. Days after the soldiers were killed, gunmen fatally shot policeman Stephen Caroll in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. And in November 2009, a car carrying a 400-pound bomb was driven through barriers at the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast. Two men ran away from the car, and there was a small blast about a half hour later that did not injure anyone.

Politicians from across the political spectrum condemned the violence, including the barracks shooting. Last year, Sinn Fein's deputy leader Martin McGuinness called the killers "traitors to the island of Ireland."

Peter Taggart contributed to this report.