Clergy and politicians today expressed outrage after a masked gang took a man’s terrified pregnant girlfriend and child hostage in Strabane while forcing him to hand over legally held firearms.
A cross-border hunt was today under way for the masked men who held the young woman and her nine-month-old baby for two hours in their home in the Castlegrange estate on Tuesday night.
It is understood a second woman — a friend of the family — was also held after calling to the house.
A PSNI spokeswoman said the 24-year-old man was forced to drive to his home in the neighbouring town of Castlederg and then hand over a number of legally held firearms in the chapel carpark in the Castlefin area of Co Donegal.
It is believed the man was a member of various gun clubs in Northern Ireland.
Strabane UUP Councillor Derek Hussey today speculated the incident was most likely to have been the work of dissident Republicans.
A PSNI spokeswoman said: “It is understood two masked men entered a house in the Castlegrange area of Strabane and stayed with the man’s girlfriend and their child while he went to retrieve the firearms before driving to Castlefin.
“The masked men left the house in a white Vauxhall Astra belonging to the victim that was later found abandoned in Co Donegal.”
Strabane priest Fr Patrick O’Hagan said: “I would condemn any incident were people are being terrorised in their home.”
Mr Hussey said: “This is a very worrying development and obviously the main suspects are paramilitaries, most likely dissident Republicans.
“One has to wonder what their motives were and what use they would have put the weapons to. We all understood that weapons were being taken out of our society and here you have weapons intended for sporting use being taken for another use.”
Michaela Boyle, Sinn Fein Councillor for the Mourne area, where the family were held, said: “This is almost like a tiger kidnapping and it is very alarming that this has happened in a housing estate in the town.
“There was a young family held hostage while this activity went on and it is very distressing for the young child, partner and the man himself. It must have been very frightening.”