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Tuesday, 22 March 2016


22 March 1979: The IRA assassinated the British Ambassador to Holland on this day. In one of the most audacious attacks launched outside of these islands the Provisional IRA targeted Sir Richard Sykes and shot dead him dead. They also gunned down his butler Karel Straub in the mistaken belief he was the Ambassadors bodyguard. Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short car journey to the British Embassy.

The Ambassador was a noted security expert and at the time there was much initial speculation in the Netherlands and in Britain that other groups under suspicion at the tome (including Palestinians and Iraqis) could have targeted him. He was appointed to the job in June 1977 after a two year posting as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy under-secretary in London. He was an acknowledged expert on security affairs and had been a diplomat in Cuba, Peking and Washington. Ironically he was responsible for an internal report on the safety of British diplomats following the Assassination by the IRA in 1977 of the British ambassador to Dublin, Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs.

Sir Richard, a much-decorated war hero from a strong military background, was assigned to the posting in Holland - sensitive because of Dutch groups sympathetic to the IRA and consequent arms smuggling activities.

There have been recent warnings from the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Mason, that the IRA might launch reprisals because of recent successes by the security forces in Belfast. His latest warning came a fortnight ago when 43 bombs were found in a shed adjoining Belfast's docks.

The biggest coup by British and Netherlands security officials was the interception of a two-ton shipment of second-hand Czech arms at Schipol Airport, bearing false labels and bound for Dublin. It is an open secret that the British Embassy in The Hague has a special monitoring role over the underground operations of IRA sympathisers in Holland. The Provisional IRA is said to have "safe houses" in the countryside where its leaders can lie low.


The Guardian 23 March 1979