There were three of them in the car. The driver and two gunmen. Watching, waiting for the moment when the pizza delivery vehicles pulled up outside Massereene British Army base. There was nothing spontaneous about what they would do. They'd gone over it many times.
Neither the soldiers, who stepped outside the base in jovial mood to collect their food, nor the hapless pizza men, stood a chance. "Our volunteers knew the fast food delivery vehicles were on their way," a representative of the Real IRA Army Council says.
"When the pizza men arrived at the barracks, there was a crowd of British soldiers standing outside, not just four as has been publicly stated. Two of our volunteers got out off the car. One opened up on the barracks' sangar. The civilian guard inside, whom we believe was armed with a handgun, didn't return fire.
"The second volunteer opened fire on the Brits and pizza delivery men. Some of the Brits managed to run back into the base. But the other Brits and the pizza men fell to the ground."
The Army Council representative says the two Real IRA gunmen then "moved in to finish off" the soldiers. From close range, two soldiers were shot in the head and another two in the chest, he claims. "At the time, our volunteers believed they'd killed four Brits," he says unflinchingly.
The Real IRA claims its gunmen then actually entered the base looking for the other soldiers whom, it alleges, had run inside, but couldn't find them. This claim by the dissidents could not be validated, or disproved, by CCTV footage from the barracks.
The two gunmen then got into the waiting car and made their escape.
Their ruthlessness was painfully evident on the ground outside Massereene. Soldiers Mark Quinsey (23) and Patrick Azimkar (21) were dead, their families torn asunder forever. Two pizza delivery men and two other soldiers were seriously injured. It's no consolation to the injured or bereaved to state that, if the Real IRA had its way, the death toll would have been far higher.
The green Vauxhall car containing the gunmen, and their driver, was abandoned on a country lane near Randalstown, about eight miles from Massereene. There was a failed attempt to burn it. Some reports suggest a timed incendiary didn't detonate.
This is denied by the Real IRA spokesman: "The car was doused in petrol. It was ablaze when our volunteers left the scene. Because a window hadn't been left open, the fire burned itself out. However, despite what the authorities allege, we believe enough internal damage was done to the car to have destroyed any DNA evidence that possibly might have been there."
The coldly clinical words of combat used by the Real IRA to describe Massereene are ones most people hoped they'd never hear again. Wider Irish society sees the attack as a return to a past they prayed had been left behind.
The Real IRA's view couldn't be more different. "Two days before Massereene, Hugh Orde announced that special intelligence forces had been employed in the North. However, we'd observed these forces operating several weeks previously," the Army Council representative says.
"The crown forces obviously had some knowledge – from either human or technological sources – that a major operation was imminent. They knew something was happening, but not where nor what. We were a step ahead. We were able to strike, and strike successfully."
Asked if he felt guilt at the soldiers' deaths, the Real IRA spokesman said they'd be alive today "had they not been occupying Ireland". Massereene was "a way of sending a message to the British – your soldiers aren't wanted here."
Questioned about the peace rallies in the North following the murder of the soldiers and of Constable Stephen Carroll by the Continuity IRA, he replied: "We have nothing to say about the peace rallies. They have no effect on us."
So what are the Real IRA's plans? Tomorrow, several hundred republicans will gather at the City Cemetery in Derry to mark the Easter Rising and to pay tribute to IRA members killed in the most recent conflict. Wreaths will be laid and the 1916 Proclamation read.
The oration will be delivered by a 32 County Sovereignty Movement representative. But there will be another speaker too. A "member of the republican movement" will read the Real IRA's Easter statement.
He will refer to Denis Donaldson's murder and Massereene. But, most significantly, he will tell the crowd that the Real IRA's strategy isn't to return to a sustained campaign of violence, but to engage in "the tactical use of armed struggle" instead.
"The days of a campaign involving military operations every day, or every few days, are over," says the Army Council representative. "We're looking for high-profile targets, though we'll obviously take advantage when other targets present themselves.
"No-one should be fooled into thinking Massereene was the only major operation Oglaigh na hEireann had planned recently. For every successful operation, numerous others are aborted at the last minute for various reasons."
The spokesman claims the Real IRA aims for "unpredictability" in its attacks: "We will diversify our tactics. There will be operations against the RUC/PSNI and British military; firebombs; other commercial bombings; and a disruption to transport and the economy through bomb warnings and real devices – which costs the British exchequer considerably."
Asked if the Real IRA planned to attack Britain, the Army Council representative states: "When it becomes opportune." He refuses to specify the organisation's numerical strength: "We have members in all six counties, even in areas not previously considered strong for us. We've also volunteers in many of the 26 counties."
The Real IRA is known to have hand-guns, rifles, sub-machine guns and plastic explosives. "We have an effective arsenal for our campaign but, like any military organisation, we're always seeking to acquire new weapons and make technological advances," the spokesman says.
While Massereene horrified wider Irish society, that sentiment isn't universally shared in republican areas of the North. But has the attack increased Real IRA recruits? "We've seen an upsurge in young people and others seeking to join our ranks," the Army Council representative says.
"But we take things very slowly. Prospective volunteers go through careful vetting procedures. It's not a case of opening the floodgates to all and sundry. Previously, quantity sometimes prevailed over quality. Past mistakes won't be repeated."
The Real IRA's refusal to launch a sustained campaign isn't just down to choice. Not only does it lack the numerical strength and support base for an all-out war, but the British have made huge technological advances in terms of surveillance since 1994. When the Provisional IRA broke its ceasefire in 1996, its Northern activity showed it was a shadow of its former self.
The Real IRA knows it won't force a British withdrawal within a few years, but it believes even infrequent attacks can shatter the normalisation of life in Northern Ireland.
"After Massereene and Craigavon, the idea of an unarmed civilian police force was exposed," says the Army Council representative.
"The RUC/PSNI are back on the streets, heavily armed in flak jackets. A huge ring of security checkpoints was erected. Hugh Orde wants an extra £76m on top of his already massive budget to combat 'dissidents'.
"Given that a monster MI5 base in Holywood already exists, why are huge resources needed to combat what British security and political figures dismiss as a 'micro group'? Or is it a case that, regardless of what such people say publicly, their actions acknowledge the threat we represent?"
Despite its size, the Real IRA is as hardline as the Provisionals once were in branding people "legitimate targets" for providing services to "the enemy". The Army Council representative says: "Targets will include civilian workers in crown force bases – be they cooks, cleaners, or administrative staff. Construction workers building or refortifying bases. Those in cafes, restaurants, shops, hotels and other outlets who serve crown force personnel."
The Real IRA effectively acknowledges that a new type of recruit has joined the PSNI, making it more representative of Northern society than the RUC was. However, it argues that, like the overwhelmingly Catholic RIC [Royal Irish Constabulary], the PSNI's objective is still to uphold the British state. Hence, its recruits remain targets.
The Real IRA statement includes a stinging denunciation of Martin McGuinness who branded its members as traitors. There's been speculation that Sinn Féin politicians' lives are in danger from dissidents.
The Army Council representative says: "Taking military action against Sinn Féin leaders who are British ministers, or who urge nationalists to inform on us, isn't high on our agenda at the moment. However, that isn't to say this position won't change and, indeed, change quickly under certain circumstances."
Since Massereene, offers of dialogue with dissidents have come thick and fast from clerical and political figures. They're all dismissed by the Army Council representative: "We're interested in talking to these people only if they're bringing news of a British withdrawal from our country."
It's not just the Real IRA's desire to inflict fatalities at Massereene, or elsewhere, that's worrying. Its members seem prepared for a violent response on themselves. "We have no doubt the British army and police will seek to spill republican blood for recent attacks on their ranks," declares the Easter statement.
The Army Council representative says: "Our volunteers certainly don't want to die. But, if you're willing to take other people's lives in the cause of Irish freedom, then of course you must be prepared to risk your own."
editorial, page 17