Friday, March 20, 2009

LONDON (AP) - Hundreds gathered Friday at the funeral of a British soldier killed in an attack by dissidents in Northern Ireland earlier this month.

Patrick Azimkar, 21, of London, and another soldier, Mark Quinsey, 23, were killed while collecting a pizza delivery outside the Massareene army base in Antrim, Northern Ireland, on March 7.

They were ambushed by dissident Irish Republican Army gunmen, who opened fire, killing the two men and wounded two other soldiers and two pizza delivery men.

Azimkar and Quinsey were the first soldiers to be killed in Northern Ireland since 1997.

More than 200 people paid tribute to Azimkar in a service at the Guards Chapel in London, near Buckingham Palace.

“He was dedicated, ambitious, full of energy, always willing to go the extra mile to get the job done,” said Lt. Col. Roger Lewis, Azimkar’s commanding officer.

Quinsey was buried Wednesday in Birmingham, his hometown, 120 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of London.

The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the ambush outside the military base. Two days later, the slaying of policeman Stephen Carroll by another radical group, the Continuity IRA, shocked Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant coalition government, bringing them to refocus attention on the splinter groups.

Lewis said Marc Fitzpatrick, one of the other soldiers injured in the attack, attributed his own survival to Azimkar’s actions.

“He told me two days ago, ‘If it wasn’t for Pat, I would not even be here. Despite the chaos, he was the one who pulled me to the ground and saved my life,’” Lewis said.

Members of Azimkar’s 38 Engineer Regiment greeted the funeral procession, which included a hearse with the words “Forever Loved” in flowers, and hoisted Azimkar’s flag-draped coffin into the chapel as members of the family watched in silence.

Lewis also said Azimkar was eager to get to Afghanistan, where his troop was being sent. The two dead were hours away from their deployment when they were killed.

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