Dissident republicans were again accused today of attempting to kill police officers against the backdrop of a developing political crisis over policing and justice.
The terrorist activity was also being seen as an attempt to exploit political instability threatening the future of the power-sharing Executive.
Nationalist politicians said a series of violent incidents in Craigavon — including a sniper attack on a police patrol — had been orchestrated.
Four or five shots were heard and the PSNI patrol saw a man aiming at them with a long-barrelled weapon in the Brownlow Road area.
A number of cars and police vehicles were also hijacked and set on fire and SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly, who had condemned the violence, was attacked.
The Upper Bann MLA sustained a leg injury and had her car windscreen smashed but said she would not be prevented from speaking out.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it was specifically me who was attacked and targeted because they waited until I had walked away until I came under attack,” she said.
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said the trouble was part of a “naive” broad strategy by dissidents across the province on the peace process.
And he said that the trouble had emanated from a recognised group of 12 to 15 people who had a mixture of connections to Continuity IRA and the Real IRA.
“I don’t think these people have a political strategy and I don’t think the political vacuum has got to such an level that it would be filled with this type of activity,” he said.
“The fact is this sort of violence could have happened two weeks ago, six weeks ago. They have been attempting this all summer, including a series of bomb alerts which were dealt with by community workers.”
Mr O’Dowd said it was up to politicians to create a “kind of fortress politics” which would not be affected by external events.
The DUP, meanwhile, accused Sinn Fein of propaganda after former Assembly chief whip Alex Maskey asked for urgent talks with the DUP to attempt to resolve the impasse over the devolution of policing and justice.
Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson said: “On behalf of the DUP, I have requested several meetings with Sinn Fein to try and resolve the so-called outstanding issues. To date the earliest I can get Sinn Fein to confirm for a meeting is in the second week of September.
“I will leave it to any neutral observer to decide who is willing to engage and who is not. The DUP stands and has always stood willing to engage on outstanding matters which must be resolved."
Condemning the attack on Ms Kelly as ‘despicable’, Policing Board chairman Sir Desmond Rea said: “Once again the police have come under attack on a number of fronts and it is fortunate that no one has been injured during this violence. This latest gun attack is another sinister development.”
Shots, bombs and stones in a day of violent mayhem
By Emily Moutlon and Lisa Smyth
A senior policeman has hit out at those responsible for the gun attack against officers on patrol in Craigavon last night by describing their actions as “attempted murder”.
Deputy District Commander Supt Alan McCrum was speaking after four to five shots were fired at police in the Brownlow Road area of the town just before 8pm.
The gun attack followed a day of escalating violence which saw police investigating claims that a bomb had been left in the Tullygally and Drumbeg areas of Craigavon.
A blast bomb was thrown at officers as well as numerous bottles, stones and a number of petrol bombs.
Numerous police vehicles were damaged as a result of the trouble, although there were no immediate reports of any injuries. A number of cars were also hijacked and burnt out.
A 31-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of hijacking and the public were advised to avoid the area as efforts continued to bring the situation under control.
Police Board member Dolores Kelly also came under attack from a gang of youths in Lurgan.
The SDLP MLA was returning to her car following a meeting with the local Parish Priest over vandalism at the graveyard.
She managed to escape serious injury but was hurt during the incident.
Earlier she had condemned the violent outbreaks in the areas.
“Those responsible obviously do not care about the damage and disruption caused and have no consideration for the wishes of the local community,” she said.
“Neighbourhood police teams in Craigavon have in recent times worked alongside communities to tackle problems such as anti-social behaviour and other low level crimes. Local people want to continue building and developing these relationships. It is clear that some elements in the community see this growing relationship as a threat.
“The message from the community must be that those responsible have no mandate, no authority, and no support.”
Yesterday’s violence followed petrol bomb attacks on police in nationalist areas of south and east Belfast late on Monday night.
Roads were closed to traffic when crowds of youths turned on police after they moved in to stop the stoning of cars passing the Markets and Short Strand areas.
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey condemned those responsible for what he called “wanton disregard of the good name of their area, never mind the safety of people passing”.
He added: “It is very disappointing that we had a number of young people gathered last night who started to throw stones and other missiles at passing vehicles, some of which contained families and young children.
“It is just unacceptable and very, very regrettable that what was a small number of young people have caused this damage.”
He said it flew in the face of the efforts of people in the nationalist areas to work with young people and provide activities for them.
Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd called for an end to the unrest and said he was disappointed trouble had flared.
“Reports of the use of a blast bomb indicate that one of the micro-republican organisations are involved and I am just thankful that no was injured or killed as a result of this attack,” he said.