Dissident gun attacks 'not linked' says police

Connla Young

The PSNI last night said they are not linking two similar gun attacks on police vehicles carried out just a day apart in Belfast. Two shots struck a Land Rover when gunmen opened fire on the Suffolk Road in west Belfast at around 11.45pm on Friday.

A day earlier, a "Kalashnikov-style" automatic weapon was used to fire at least 10 rounds at three police vehicles as they passed along the Crumlin Road in north Belfast.

It later emerged that gunmen had set up a makeshift platform to fire over a wall at the vehicles.

No-one was injured during either attack.

A 34-year-old man was arrested in north Belfast yesterday morning in connection with Thursday night's attack on police. He was still being questioned at Antrim police station last night.

It emerged last night that separate investigations have been launched into the gun attacks.

A police spokeswoman said: "Police are not formally linking the attacks and both investigations are at a very early stage".

Dissident republicans are being blamed, with Chief Constable Matt Baggott warning recently that different groupings appear to in some form of competition with each other to en-sure they have a profile.

In recent weeks there has been a upsurge in republican paramilitary activity in Belfast.

In October 'the IRA', which was formed last year after the Real IRA, Direct Action Against Drugs and other independent republicans merged, claimed responsibility for shooting dead alleged drug dealer Kevin Kearney in north Belfast.

Another group, Oglaigh na Eireann, last month said it was behind an attempted car-bomb attack at Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast city centre.

West Belfast SDLP assembly member Alex Attwood said Friday's ambush could have resulted in fatalities.

"Those engaged in this type of reckless violence are not advancing any political ideal, they are hurting the community they claim to represent," he said.

"A worrying trend is beginning to appear in regards to such attacks on the police across the city. "

Sinn Fein assembly member Jennifer McCann said those behind the attack "are not motivated by a desire for Irish freedom".

"If they were they would listen to their communities who overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and a political path towards achieving that goal.

"Instead they have endangered any one in the area of the Suffolk Road at that time for their own agenda. Fortunately nobody was injured."

PSNI Chief Superintendent George Clarke described Friday night's ambush as "reckless".

"For the second night in a row, dedicated community police officers have found themselves under attack from terrorists," he said.

"It is fortunate that we are not dealing with fatalities this morning and those responsible are to be utterly condemned for their evil and reckless actions.

"These officers go out each day to serve this community and they should be free to do so without the threat of attack.

"I again urge the community to support us. We need information from the community to help us defeat those who seek to take us back to the past by showing them that they do not represent the wishes of this community."

n searCh: A police forensic team searches the area near the location of a gun attack on a police Land Rover on the Suffolk Road in west Belfast

PICTURE: Seamus Loughran

ATTACK: A platform at Butler Walk in the Ardoyne area of Belfast from which gunmen are believed to have fired shots at a police convoy on Thursday night


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