Two soldiers were shot dead last night and two others were seriously injured as dissident Republicans are believed to have brought violence back to the streets of Northern Ireland.

The soldiers were reportedly paying for a pizza delivery order when their attackers pulled up in a vehicle and opened fire outside the barracks of 38 Engineer Regiment in Antrim. Two civilians were also seriously hurt.

The soldiers are the first to be killed in Northern Ireland for 12 years. Their deaths came just 36 hours after Sir Hugh Orde, the Northern Ireland chief constable, confirmed that undercover soldiers from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) had been called in to carry out surveillance operations on dissidents amid warnings that the threat against his officers and military personnel was at its highest for almost a decade.

An Irish newspaper says it received a statement from an IRA dissident group claiming responsibility for Saturday's gun attack at a British army.

The attack happened at Massereene Barracks on the edge of the town, which is 16 miles northwest of Belfast. Eyewitnesses said there were two long busts of gunfire. One witness, who lives near the base, said at first he thought it was fireworks. “Then I heard a lot of loud bangs again, only it was a lot more than there was initially — maybe between 10 and 20.

“Then the siren at the army barracks went off. Then all you heard was the police sirens and ambulances and there was at least six ambulances and God knows how many police cars — they just came out of the police station one after the other.”

Ireland's public broadcaster RTE said the attackers got past the base's checkpoint in a taxi and opened fire with machine guns.

All six victims were taken to Antrim hospital a mile away. The area around the barracks was sealed off and a major security operation was under way early today.

Click here to read the full story from the Times of London.