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Four other men were injured in the attack, when shots were fired at the Massereene base in County Antrim, north of Belfast. Two were thought to be military personnel and the others civilians.
Ian Paisley Jnr, a Democratic Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the policing board, said the shooting could be a defining moment in the history of Northern Ireland.
He said: "For the last 10 years, people believed things like this happened in foreign countries, places like Basra. Unfortunately it has returned to our doorstep."
Thomas Burns of the SDLP added: "This has taken us back to the bad, bad old days which we have left long since behind. We want to see a prosperous Northern Ireland, we don't want to see people getting shot in the street."
The attack happened at around 9.20pm on Saturday at the barracks, which is home to 38 Engineering Regiment.
It is thought the attackers posed as pizza delivery men and opened fire when the soldiers and civilians came to the gates.
Mr Burns said the attack could cause the power-sharing executive to 'wobble.'
"We are all very, very concerned about that," he added.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the shooting, but republicans opposed to the peace process were immediately blamed.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward condemned the shooting as an "act of criminal barbarism".
"The people who did this will be pursued, " said Mr Woodward, "They can be assured that they will never be able stop political progress in Northern Ireland."
Witnesses described two long bursts of gunfire. Immediately afterwards, sirens could be heard blaring inside the military barracks, which is located on the edge of the town of Antrim. The area around the barracks was sealed off and a major security operation was launched.
It happened just 36 hours after Northern Ireland Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde confirmed that undercover soldiers had been called in to carry out surveillance operations amid warnings that the threat against his officers and military personnel was at its highest for almost a decade.
The soldiers are the first to be murdered in Northern Ireland since Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick was killed by an IRA sniper in 1997.
Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen said the attack would not be allowed to undermine power-sharing and peace in Northern Ireland.
"A tiny group of evil people cannot and will not undermine the will of the people of Ireland to live in peace together," said Mr Cowan.
Northern Ireland's First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson said he was postponing a trip to the United States as a result of the shootings.
He said they were a "terrible reminder of the events of the past".
"These murders were a futile act by those who command no public support and have no prospect of success in their campaign. It will not succeed," added Mr Robinson.
The 38 Engineer Regiment has been based at Massereene Barracks since August last year but is due to be relocated to RAF Aldergrove in Co Antrim by the end of 2010.
Republican extremists opposed to the peace process have launched a series of failed murder attempts on police, ranging from shootings to bomb attempts.
Last year dissident Republicans tried to kill PSNI officers in separate incidents in Derry City and Dungannon Co Tyrone. Last month, security forces also defused a 300lb bomb in Castlewellan Co Down which may have been intended for an attack on a nearby barracks.
A spokesman for Downing Street said: "In recent days action has been taken to increase security in Northern Ireland. This is because of the increased threat from those who, even at this late stage, wish to ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland and attempt to derail the peace process."
Irish minister for foreign affairs, Micheal Martin said: "Let us be clear. The targets of this attack are the Irish people, north and south.
"This is an attempt to undermine the remarkable progress of recent years. The perpetrators of this assault have no mandate. They will not be allowed to succeed. They must be brought to justice."