BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- IRA guerrillas set off a 1,000-pound land mine beneath an armored troop carrier Tuesday, killing all five British soldiers aboard in a huge explosion near the home of IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.
British troops and Northern Irish police came under heavy gasoline bomb and brick barrages in the evening in some of the worst violence in a week. An 11-year-old girl suffered serious head injuries, police said.
There were unconfirmed reports she was struck by a plastic bullet fired by security forces clashing with Irish nationalist demonstrators in what has become a nightly pattern of confrontation.
A 14-year-old girl was killed last week after being struck in the head by a plastic bullet fired by the security forces.
The blast was the worst single attack against the British army in Northern Ireland since 1979 and the first fatal attack against British soldiers since IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died May 5.
The attack heightened tension throughout the province as McCreesh and another hunger striker Patrick O'Hara, both 24, entered the 59th day of their fast to death to press demands for political prisoner status. McCreesh was said to be in a semicoma and was expected to die this week.
An army spokesman said the 1,000-pound land mine apparently was concealed in a culvert underneath a remote road at Altnaveigh, just north of the border with the Irish Republic and two miles from McCreesh's village of Camlough.
An army spokesman said the five soldiers, members of the Royal Greenjackets stationed at nearby Bessbrook, were killed instantly. Assistant Chief Constable Trevor Forbes, heading the search for the bombers, said the bodies trapped in the wreckage were 'an absolute scene of horror, really sickening.'
'It's so horrible that I think some of our community need to be brought and shown it,' Forbes said, adding 'Whether it's in 10 days or 10 years, we will get them (the killers).'
A statement issued by the Republican press center in Belfast on behalf of the the outlawed Irish Republican Army's South Armagh brigade said, 'The IRA claims responsibility for the land mine attack.'
'British soldiers should realize that the English public and the English politicians do not give a damn about their lives,' the statement said. 'You are fighting a war which you cannot win.'
Army sources said the land mine was detonated by a remote control radio device like those used in August 1979 when 18 soldiers were killed in explosions in Warrenpoint.
Tuesday's powerful blast tore a 25-foot crater in the road and ripped apart the 2-ton Saracen armored personnel carrier, scattering wreckage over hundreds of yards.
Soldiers in another armored personnel carrier which rumbled over the fatal spot just seconds before escaped injury in the blast, an army spokesman said.
Security forces sealed off the area around the wrecked vehicle searching cautiously for possible further bombs. Six hours after the blast they still were not able to remove the bodies for fear of booby traps.
Helicopters and a spotter plane scoured the remote country of South Armagh for the IRA hit team that set off the explosion.
Extra troops in Ulster and police in the Irish Republic assisted in the search.
At the Maze prison, 10 miles south Belfast, MacCreesh's family kept a vigil.
An IRA spokesman said the family reported McCreesh was unable to drink water without assistance and could not recognize relatives because he had become virtually blind.
The hunger strike and the bomb attack cast a shadow over local Ulster elections to be held Wednesday, when representatives for 526 seats on 26 local councils will be chosen from 1,020 Catholic and Protestant candidates.