Belfast Christmas market lockdown after man stabbed in front of revellers
A man was last night fighting for his life after a horror stabbing in front of thousands of revellers at Belfast's Christmas Market.
Stunned visitors told of their fear that they had been caught up in a terrorist incident after the recent lorry attack on a crowd at a Berlin Christmas Market that killed 12 people.
Onlookers described the panic as families were evacuated from the market.
The victim, aged in his 40s, was knifed as festive revellers enjoyed a night out.
It is believed he was stabbed at around 7.45pm just outside the main gates of City Hall.
A spokeswoman for Belfast Health Trust last night described the man's condition as critical.
The victim was treated at the scene by an emergency ambulance crew before he was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Some of those who fled the scene said people began to panic when they spotted PSNI officers at the scene.
"No-one would tell us what was happening, security staff just kept saying we had to leave," one onlooker said.
"We then saw lots of police coming in to the markets and moving us all out. They wouldn't tell us what was going on so we started to panic thinking it was terrorist-related. I kept thinking about Berlin and knew we had to get out of there.
"We were so scared."
A massive security operation swung into action as police sealed off the entire market area.
Police are not ruling out that it was a sectarian motive.
One eyewitness, Lyra McKee, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I just walked round out of the side gate at City Hall and there was a crowd and a police cordon across the front of City Hall.
"The man looked in his 40s, from the little I could see of him.
"Someone told me she saw a knife sticking out of him.
"This is the last night of the Christmas market, there were children here that had to see this. It was horrible.
"I think after Berlin, people seemed a bit more panicked, because of the location obviously.
"Kids were panicking asking was it terrorist-related. For 13 and 14-year-olds asking that was heartbreaking."
Another eyewitness, Joan McKinley, said: "The man was slumped against one of the stalls and he appeared to be unconscious. We saw blood on the pavement further down from where he was and we realised it was serious."
Another witness said: "He was leaning over and was very grey and we didn't think he was drunk. There was a steward with him and three other stewards came rushing out to help."
Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said he was appalled by news of the attack.
"Such violence on our streets is always abhorrent but it is doubly so at this time when people are celebrating with friends and family as we look forward to Christmas," he said.
Reacting to the news, DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly tweeted: "Awful news coming through on what should have been a fun, enjoyable night for the many thousands in Belfast tonight."
PSNI Inspector Duncan McBain appealed for anyone with information to contact detectives at Musgrave police station.