The Coagh ambush takes place in Coagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on June 3, 1991, during The Troubles, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit from its East Tyrone Brigade is ambushed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) while on its way to kill a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The ambush results in the deaths of all three IRA men involved.
The series of killings which lead to the Coagh ambush begin on April 26 1988, when a 23-year-old UDR soldier from Coagh, Edward Gibson, is shot dead by an IRA unit at Ardboe while at work for Cookstown Council on a bin lorry. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by murdering Phelim McNally, brother of local Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally, on November 24, 1988. This is followed by an IRA attack upon a car maintenance garage business owned by retired UDR soldier Leslie Dallas on March 7, 1989, in which Dallas, along with two civilian pensioners that are in the premises at the time of the attack, are all murdered by machine gun fire from a passing vehicle, the IRA attackers driving off afterwards cheering as reported by eyewitnesses in the vicinity.
The tit-for-tat campaign around Coagh continues on November 29 1989, when UVF gunmen attack a pub owned by IRA member Liam Ryan, shooting Ryan dead. A customer in the premises is also killed in the incident. On March 8, 1990, part-time UDR soldier and construction worker Thomas Jamison is killed by the IRA in a gun and grenade ambush attack on a lorry he is driving near Donaghmore, while delivering concrete to a British Army base. On March 3, 1991, the Ulster Volunteer Force carries out an attack at the village of Cappagh, killing three IRA members. On April 9, 1991, the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade shoots dead Derek Ferguson in Coagh, a cousin of local Member of Parliament Reverend William McCrea, stating afterward that he was a paramilitary with the Ulster Volunteer Force. Ferguson’s family subsequently refutes that he had anything to do with Loyalist paramilitarism.
At 7:30 AM on June 3, 1991, three Tyrone IRA paramilitaries, Tony Doris (21), Michael “Pete” Ryan (37) and Lawrence McNally (39), drive a stolen Vauxhall Cavalier from Moneymore, County Londonderry to the village of Coagh, crossing the border of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, to kill a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who is in his civilian life a contractor that works with the security forces. Their intent, however, is known to the British security forces, having been revealed by either a Crown agent within the IRA itself or from covert technical surveillance. In consequence a detachment from the British Army’s Special Air Service is lying in wait on both sides of Coagh’s main street, and also in a red Bedford lorry at the scene.
The stolen car is driven by Doris towards the centre of the village, its journey from Moneymore being tracked on the ground and in the air. At the scene of the ambush the British Army has set up a “decoy” target for the IRA to go for in the form of an SAS trooper who is pretending to be their intended victim, sitting in his car at a regular spot while waiting to pick up a friend on their way to work, which IRA intelligence had established as a behavioral pattern of their intended victim. When the stolen car carrying the IRA men approaches the scene, the Special Air Service detachment opens sustained automatic fire upon it from close range. Doris is immediately hit and the out-of-control car crashes into two nearby parked cars. The shooting continues until the car explodes in flames. According to an eyewitness, one of the IRA men in the car returns fire from within the vehicle after the crash.
Some reports claim at least two of the IRA men attempt to exit the crashed car and are subsequently found lying half out of its doors by the later police investigation of the scene. Relatives of the IRA men subsequently state that they had received information from the scene that two of the IRA attackers had fled on foot from the car after the crash, but had been pursued after and shot down by the British Army in the vicinity, with their bodies being taken back to the car, which is subsequently reported to be riddled with over 200 bullet holes. A Royal Ulster Constabulary crime-scene report states that a balaclava belonging to one of the IRA men is found some distance away from the vehicle.
The bodies of Doris, Ryan and McNally are badly burned and have to be identified by police using their dental records. Two rifles are recovered from within the burned-out stolen car and subsequent police forensic examination reveals that they had both been used in the multiple murders at Leslie Dallas’s garage in March 1989.
(Pictured: Looking towards Coagh village, from the County Londonderry side)