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IRA claims car bombings that kill 7

The Irish Republican Army Wednesday used "proxy" car bombs to kill six soldiers and a civilian and wound more than two dozen people in attacks on security checkpoints in Northern Ireland. The attacks, which took place simultaneously before dawn at two checkpoints at opposite ends of the province, caused the highest one-day death toll of soldiers in Northern Ireland in more than two years.

Masked gunmen Tuesday night seized Catholic families in three locations in Northern Ireland and held them hostage at gunpoint, forcing the heads of the households to drive their own vehicles, loaded with explosives, to the targets, according to the police.

Outside Londonderry, one of the huge bombs killed five soldiers and one unidentified civilian, probably the driver, police said. The blast seriously wounded six other soldiers and police and lightly injured 11 civilians living nearby.

Witnesses said the blast virtually obliterated the checkpoint, leaving a deep crater and smoldering rubble. Peter Wiley, who lives nearby, said he heard a massive explosion that shattered windows and damaged roofs throughout the area.

In the second blast, near Newry, on the main Belfast-Dublin road in southeast Northern Ireland, the unidentified driver leaped from his vehicle before it exploded and shouted, "There is a bomb in the van." The bomb went off seconds later, killing one soldier and wounding 10. The driver, a 65-year-old retiree, escaped with a broken leg.

An army base near Omagh in the center of the province was the target of a third attack, but the 200-pound bomb failed to detonate.

The IRA claimed responsibility for the attacks. "This morning's military operation again devastates the myth of containment," it said. "Until the British government end their futile war in Ireland, attacks such as this morning's will continue."

The statement charged that the civilians forced to drive the bombs were "collaborators" who had done construction work for the security forces.