Dissidents turning Belfast into Wild West, say police
Parts of Belfast resemble the Wild West after dissidents killed two men in gun attacks and injured several others in under a month, police sources have claimed.
Officers have warned they expect further bloodshed following the murder of suspected west Belfast drug dealer Daniel Murray on Monday night.
It is understood that the 55-year-old father, who was known to police and had a lengthy criminal record, was targeted by dissident republicans who accused him of being heavily involved in drug dealing, including heroin.
He is also believed to have refused to pay them an increased 'tax' that would have allowed him to keep dealing in the area.
Delivery driver Mr Murray, who was targeted twice previously in gun attacks, was lured to an address at Lady Street in the Divis area of west Belfast, near the Grosvenor Road, with a bogus food order then ambushed in his car.
His partner, Ciara Austin, the mother of his youngest child, denied he was involved in drugs and branded his killers cowards.
The murder follows a surge in dissident republican shootings across Belfast in recent weeks.
On the same night Mr Murray was killed, a 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old youth were injured in shootings in the north of the city.
And less than four weeks ago, taxi driver Michael McGibbon died following a botched punishment shooting in an alleyway in Ardoyne.
It is believed that the victim, who was not known to police, may have been targeted because dissidents claimed he had "made an unfavourable comment" to one of their daughters.
On Friday, Scott McHugh, who police freed without charge following the killing of Provisional IRA leader Gerard 'Jock' Davison, was left fighting for his life after being shot in the head in west Belfast.
PSNI Superintendent John Roberts insisted yesterday there was no "gang culture" in the area.
"It is not the case that criminals can run wild with guns in the city of Belfast," he said.
However, officers on the ground warned that the situation was beginning to spiral out of control.
"There are parts of Belfast beginning to resemble the Wild West with dissident republicans running around shooting people at will - there is clearly a problem," one officer told this newspaper.
Another added: "I hate to say it, but I'm not very confident in our ability to keep people safe in parts of the city these days. I'm fully expecting more blood to be shed."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson warned that a "culture of violence" was rapidly developing in the city.
"Three shootings in the space of 24 hours gives the impression of a growing cycle of violence in Belfast, whether any connection exists or not between them," he said. "The thugs behind them need taken off our streets immediately."
UUP Policing Board member Ross Hussey insisted it was clear "that our society is still blighted by groups who wish to impose their will on communities through both the threat of and use of violence".
And SDLP West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood supported claims there was a pattern of violence, including murder, in the area.
"The few seek to impose their will over the heads of the people," he said. "This threat needs to be assessed and addressed at policing and political levels."
Members of Sinn Fein met with the police yesterday to discuss the spate of shootings.
North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said: "The community has rejected those behind these attacks at public demonstrations and at the ballot box, and they want them to end.
"We are also calling on anyone with any information about these attacks to bring it forward to the PSNI."
In a joint statement, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the shootings were "barbaric and wrong".