Ardoyne on edge as gun attack on police ratchets tensions
A dissident murder bid on police was the latest attempt by paramilitaries to ignite a sectarian powderkeg and bring bloodshed back to Northern Ireland's streets, it has been claimed.
A burst of automatic gunfire struck police vehicles at a north Belfast interface just yards from where dozens of loyalist protesters had gathered.
It was the latest in a spate of murder attempts by dissident republicans, with fears of more attacks in the coming weeks.
Community representatives said those behind the shooting had chosen the location to ratchet up tensions and provoke a response from loyalists.
About 15 shots were fired from AK-47 assault rifles less than 50ft away from where around 60 people – ranging from young children to pensioners – had gathered at Twaddell Avenue.
Winston Irvine, a PUP representative who was among the crowd, said he was in no doubt the murder bid was staged close to protesters to antagonise the unionist community.
"This is clearly a very dangerous group intent on killing members of the public," he said.
"This was an attack on the whole community. This is absolutely an upping of the ante by republicans.
"It was a calculated operation designed for maximum provocation given the proximity of the civil rights camp, the timing and the personnel targeted."
Irvine said it was imperative loyalists refrained from retaliation.
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds added: "There does appear to be a growing dissident threat within Ardoyne and we have seen the intent and capability of these terrorists in Belfast all too clearly in recent weeks."
The police vehicles were hit as they passed Ardoyne shortly after 7pm on Thursday.
A heavy police presence has been on station at the Twaddell Avenue interface since July.
A loyalist protest camp, set up days after a contentious Twelfth parade was blocked from passing Ardoyne, has been manned round-the-clock every day since.
And every evening scores of protesters have gathered at Twaddell Avenue to express their opposition to the banning of the Twelfth march. Police have been there every night to prevent clashes between rival factions.
SDLP councillor Nicola Mallon said the dissident terrorists were acting against the wishes of the vast majority of nationalists.
"They will not destabilise our political structures, nor drag us back to the past," she added.
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly described the gun attack as "reckless".
He added: "Those behind this attack are serving their own narrow agenda and are in no way representative of this community."
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the attack highlighted that dissidents had a "complete disregard for public safety".
The shooting comes amid a rising security threat posed by dissidents as well as tensions among loyalist paramilitaries.
Rogue republicans have been responsible for a number of attacks in Belfast and Londonderry recently.
Two weeks ago a car bomb packed with 130lb (60kg) of explosives partially detonated outside the Victoria Square complex in Belfast city centre. The car used to carry the bomb was hijacked in Ardoyne and the driver forced to take it into the city, where he abandoned it before raising the alarm.
A female bus driver in Derry was threatened by masked men and ordered to take a bomb to the city's main police station.
And a bomb was left under the car of an ex-policeman in Dundonald last month. Only his vigilance prevented his death and that of his 12-year-old daughter.