A 26-year-old man has been arrested after a gun attack on police in a west Belfast street packed with schoolchildren.
The man was taken in for questioning after being arrested by detectives from the PSNI Serious Crime Branch last night.
Politicians, religious leaders and shocked residents in the Foxes Glen area of Dunmurry have expressed their disgust after three officers from Lisburn station were ambushed as they attended reports of a burglary.
The officers were left badly shaken when at least five shots were fired as they responded to a bogus call at around 1pm.
The street was busy with children returning from playgroups and schools. It was reported that people scattered as the attack took place, with parents snatching children off the street.
One of the gunshots struck a parked car belonging to a resident in the built-up area.
Grandmother-of-two Margaret McGrath told the Belfast Telegraph she was in the back garden of her home playing with one of her grandchildren when she heard the gunfire.
“I heard the cracks and I knew it was shots,” she said.
“And then I heard the screeches of the police car and I knew something was wrong. I had seen the police car going up the street, so when I heard the screeches I knew obviously it was shots fired at them, because they sped out of here. It was so quick. I don’t blame them, but somebody could have been hurt. The police came back a long time later.
“People are disgusted. At the end of the day, you think we are past all that. You’ve been here, you’ve done it, you’ve witnessed it, you know what a shot sounds like, you know what’s going on.
“Any child could have been hurt, anything could have happened.”
A number of houses in the area were evacuated and Brook Activity Centre in the nearby Twinbrook estate was made available to those not staying with relatives.
Lorraine McCaul, a mother-of-two and residents’ committee member said people were wandering through the scene as the police didn’t return until 4pm. She said: “I finished work at 1.30pm and my sister called me at 1.40pm and said there was a shooting.
“She heard gunfire shots, but I said nobody was about. I looked out and saw nothing at all.
“I asked a couple of neighbours and they said it was on Facebook there had been gunshots in Foxes Glen. The kids came home from school with two friends and I saw the police arrive at about 4pm. I wondered what was going on and then I saw a people carrier and a cameraman got out. I went round to have a look and was able to take photographs. My son Quinn lifted a bullet off the ground and kids were all over the car that had been damaged.”
Sinn Fein councillor Stephen Magennis said the gunmen had jeopardised the lives of police officers and local people, including children. “We are lucky no-one was injured or killed in this reckless and pointless attack,” he said.
Lisburn Area Commander Chief Inspector Darrin Jones has hit out at those responsible for luring his officers into the area.
“It is despicable that police officers who were simply trying to give assistance to a person they believed needed them, should be attacked so ruthlessly,” he said.
“This was an attempt to murder three young, professional, dedicated people.
“I am appealing directly to anyone who was in the Foxes Glen area and who may be able to help us, to get in touch with police.
“I feel extremely grateful that those responsible for this attack failed in their goal to murder. We could so easily have been dealing with an unimaginable tragedy.”
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers MP said the officers were extremely fortunate not to have been killed by “such a cowardly and callous attack”.
“Those behind this attack have nothing to offer their community,” Ms Villiers said. “The PSNI work to protect and serve the whole community. I know they will continue to do so despite the threat posed by a small minority.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 0845 600 8000 or if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their name they can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.