British crack force `on trial'

The four-week old inquest into the deaths of three Irish Republican Army members, which began in Gibraltar on Sept. 6, is expected to continue well into next month. The inquest is airing charges that Britain operated a ``shoot-to-kill'' policy against the three suspected IRA members who were on a bombing mission when they were shot and killed March 6. The trio were killed by seven members of the British Army's Special Air Service (SAS). More than 70 witnesses to the Gibraltar shootings will be called before the inquest concludes.

During the first week of the inquest, witnesses testified that one IRA member was shot with as many as 18 bullets, including four fired at close range as he lay wounded on the ground. A pathologist said the death was the result of a ``frenzied attack.''

Also during the first week, one SAS soldier said he was ``not sure'' if he had ordered one of the slain IRA members to stop before he opened fire. He said he saw the elbow of one of the IRA members move ``aggressively.''

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Witnesses said the IRA members died in a hail of 27 bullets, mostly in their backs and heads. The IRA members were unarmed, witnesses said.

In the second week of testimony, witnesses said that the car bomb the IRA members had planned to explode in Gibraltar in March would have devastated the city's center. Intelligence witnesses, testifying behind a screen to conceal their identity, said that they thought a bomb would be detonated in Gibraltar at a military parade on March 8. While the car was found to contain no explosives, bomb-making equipment later was found in a car in Spain.

One witness told the inquest that SAS members shot two of the IRA members as they raised their hands to surrender.

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