Two men were found guilty on Friday of the murder of a police officer shot dead in Northern Ireland in March 2009, one of the bloodiest months since a 1998 peace deal mostly ended three decades of sectarian violence.

Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead while on patrol in Craigavon, about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the Northern Ireland capital Belfast, just two days after the killing of two British soldiers in the British-controlled province.

His killing was claimed by the Continuity IRA, a small militant group which opposed the end of the Irish Republican Army's violent campaign against British rule.

Brendan McConville, 40, a former local councillor for Sinn Fein, which now shares power in the Northern Ireland government with pro-British unionists, and John Paul Wootton, 20, were found guilty of murdering the long-serving officer.

The two men pleaded not guilty but refused to enter the witness box to give evidence.

Carroll, whose widow sat in the Belfast court almost every day of the nine-week trial, was lured to his death by members of the Continuity IRA who smashed a window in a private house and waited for the police to respond. He was killed instantly by a single shot to the head fired by a marksman.

The prosecution told the court that British security forces were secretly bugging a car belonging to one of the accused before the killing.

Judge Lord Justice Paul Girvan, who sat without a jury, handed down the guilty verdicts in a two-hour judgment delivered in Belfast Crown Court.

He said McConville and Wootton were active and committed supporters of a republican campaign of violence, and were intimately involved in the planning of the murder.

Their sentence will be announced at a later hearing.

Those who carried out this murder intended to strike fear into the wider community. They sought to destabilise Northern Ireland ... they failed miserably, said member of parliament David Simpson, in whose Upper Bann constituency Carroll was killed.

The peace deal largely ended a conflict in Northern Ireland that had cost some 3,600 lives, but there has been an upsurge of shootings and bombings in recent years, including the killing of another policeman last year.

(Reporting by Ian Graham, writing by Lorraine Turner, editing by Tim Pearce)