Armed soldiers in Belfast
Armed British soldiers patrolling the streets of Belfast during the Official IRA's unconditional ceasefire in 1972 Evening Standard/Getty Images

Two former soldiers are facing murder charges linked to the shooting of an IRA commander in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles over 40 years ago. Joe McCann, 24, was shot dead in Belfast city centre on 15 April, 1972.

No one was charged with his killing at the time, after an investigation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Now a decision has been taken to prosecute two men, known only as Soldier A, who is 67, and Soldier C, who is 65, who are surviving members of the Parachute Regiment patrol which are said to have fired at McCann. A third man who was also part of the unit who fired at McCann, has since died, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said.

A PPS spokesman said: "Following a careful consideration of all the available evidence it has been decided to prosecute two men for the offence of murder."

He added: "The decision was reached following an objective and impartial application of the test for prosecution that was conducted in accordance with the code for prosecutors and with the benefit of advice from senior counsel."

McCann had been one of the Official IRA's most prominent activists in the early days of the conflict, referred to commonly as the Troubles. The Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which was set up to investigate unresolved killings in Northern Ireland which occurred at the time of the Troubles, carried out an investigation into McCann's death in 2012.

Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin QC, referred it to the Director of Public Prosecutions in March 2014, where the case was reviewed before prosecutions were brought this week. It is thought that this case is only the second military prosecution involving Northern Ireland since the 1990s. The two suspects are likely to appear in court next year.

In February this year it was announced that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) will question former British soldiers in relation to the killing of 13 people during 1972's Bloody Sunday. Then on 7 December police submitted the report to the PPS.