Northern Ireland news

'Protestant Action Force' believed to be responsible for Co Down bus hijacking

The scene on Abbot Drive after a bus was set on fire by masked men on Monday. Picture by Mark Marlow

A GROUP linked in the past to the UVF was reportedly responsible for hijacking and setting a bus on fire in Co Down.

Two masked gunmen, allegedly representing the 'Protestant Action Force', are understood to have been involved in the terrifying attack in Newtownards yesterday.

There has been speculation it was timed to coincide with a deadline previously set by the DUP to resolve issues around the protocol and Irish Sea border.

The Belfast Telegraph today reported that the men claimed they were from the 'Protestant Action Force' and are understood to have told the bus driver that the attack was the start of a campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"Unless the protocol goes, a few burning buses will be the tip of the iceberg," a loyalist source told the newspaper.

In September, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson threatened to collapse Stormont "within weeks" if demands over the NI Protocol were not met.

The party has not yet withdrawn ministers from the Executive, insisting progress is being made in efforts to dismantle the contentious Irish Sea border.

But Sir Jeffrey said yesterday that "anyone who believes for one moment that burning buses has any impact whatsoever in terms of our campaign to remove the Irish Sea border really isn't living in the real world".

The attack happened in the Abbot Drive area at about 6.30am as the two men boarded the 7a bus. They poured fuel over the bottom deck of the vehicle before setting it alight.

The bus driver managed to get off the bus unharmed but has been left badly shaken.

A nearby bus shelter was also significantly damaged by the blaze.

Police said they are "stepping up our visible neighbourhood policing presence in this area" following the hijacking in a bid to "provide reassurance to the local community".

The Protestant Action Force has been a cover name used by loyalists, mainly the UVF.

It is believed to have been used to claim the murders of at least 41 Catholics during the Troubles.

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