BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army launched a mortar attack on a security patrol northwest of Belfast early Tuesday, killing a police officer and wounding three soldiers, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said.
In two other overnight attacks in Belfast, IRA gunmen sprayed two homes in Protestant districts with automatic gunfire. The IRA, which warned over the weekend it would avenge the murders of Catholics, claimed responsibility for all three incidents.
Police also reported defusing a 1,200-pound bomb Tuesday morning in the town of Newtonhamilton in southern County Armagh near the Irish border where the IRA has previously staged attacks in their guerrilla war against British-rule in Ulster.
No other details were immediately available.
The mortar attack occurred as a four-vehicle convoy was crossing a bridge at the end of the quiet village of Swatragh, 60 miles northwest of Belfast and 3 miles from where Catholic district councilman Bernard O'Hagen was shot and killed Monday by a Protestant paramilitary group. O'Hagen was a member of Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the IRA.
The horizontally fired Mark 12 mortar, fired from a children's playground, struck the third vehicle in the convoy, killing 37-year-old police officer Eric Clarke, a father of five originally from England. Three soldiers of the King's Regiment were wounded, an army spokesman said.
Clarke's death brought to 60 the number of people killed in political and sectarian violence in British-ruled Northern Ireland this year.
Member of Parliament the Rev. William McCrea of the Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists party said security forces and the people living in area had expected an attack by the IRA to avenge the killing of O'Hagan.
'We were expecting this to happen. Security chiefs knew something terrible would take place, yet they are taking no action to get these IRA thugs off our backs,' McCrea said.
'Talking has done nothing, now it is time for action,' he said.
In Belfast, the IRA claimed responsiblility for gun attacks on two homes in the Protestant areas Shankill Road and Dunmurry before dawn Tuesday. One woman was injured by flying glass when shots were fired through the window of her home and in the second attack a woman and her 11-year-old daughter were taken to a hospital suffering from acute shock.
The IRA said their intended targets were men, but they were not at home.
Police said they believed Monday's killing of O'Hagen, the fourth Sinn Fein councilman to be killed since May, was a response by Protestant groups to a warning from the IRA that it would retaliate for the murders of Catholics.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams Monday issued one of the most strongly worded statements ever by the organization, saying, 'Those who censor Sinn Fein or seek to demonize us cannot distance themselves from the murderous consequences of their comments.'
'They are as responsible for the death of Bernard O'Hagen as those who carried out the attack and those in the British security service who directed it,' Adams added.