World: Murder in The Hague

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Britain's Ambassador to The Netherlands, Sir Richard Sykes, 58, had just stepped into his silver-gray Rolls-Royce for the four-minute ride from his residence to the British embassy in The Hague. As Sykes' Dutch valet, Karel Straub, 19, closed the car door, two men suddenly emerged from the back of the courtyard. One fired a revolver through the rear side window of the limousine, hitting Sykes four times; the other gunman shot Straub twice at close range. Sykes and Straub died later in the hospital.

Sykes' assassination, coming just a month after U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was kidnaped and murdered by Muslim extremists, underscored the grim reality that diplomats have become prime targets for terrorists. By and large, security measures to protect the ambassadors are often surprisingly lax. Straub's parents said their son had told them of repeated bomb threats against the ambassadorial residence. Yet the ambassador had no bodyguard, the limousine was not equipped with bulletproof windows, and his residence was unguarded. Sykes' apparent disregard for his own safety seemed all the more astonishing since he had recommended tighter security for diplomats after investigating the assassination of the British Ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, in 1976.

At week's end the killers were still unidentified, but there was strong speculation that they were hit men for the provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army. Last week the proves launched a bomb blitz in Ulster; in one two-hour period, there were 30 explosions in 16 towns. Sykes might have become a target for his 1976 security probe and because his embassy was monitoring the underground operations of ultra-left I.R.A. sympathizers in Holland.