Belfast Telegraph

Belfast officer shot by dissidents in stable condition after more surgery

By Claire O'Boyle

A police officer attacked in a paramilitary ambush has undergone further surgery after being shot at least twice in his arm in a dissident murder bid.

The news comes after the last of three men arrested in connection with the shooting was released unconditionally.

The release of the 30-year-old last night follows the freeing of two other men, aged 36 and 39, arrested in the aftermath of the attack on the PSNI officer.

The victim, in his 20s, has now transferred from the Royal Victoria in Belfast to another hospital for more treatment.

He was taken to theatre just hours after coming under fire at a packed petrol station forecourt on the Crumlin Road on Sunday night, but needed further treatment. He is understood to be in a stable condition following surgery yesterday afternoon.

It is believed a gunman was lying in wait in a derelict car park across the busy road before opening fire on his target at 7.30pm.

As many as 10 shots were discharged from an automatic weapon towards the petrol station, with police recovering bullets from across the forecourt and even inside cars. Police believe the wounded officer's life may have been saved by his bullet proof vest as the garage was riddled with gunshots.

A group calling itself the 'IRA' claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had been in the planning for months and had directly targeted two PSNI officers.

The group said: "They had been using the service station regularly but there was never a pattern established."

According to reports in the Irish News, the organisation used a recognised codeword to deny the ambush was linked to the political meltdown at Stormont, calling it instead a "continuation of activity".

The group denied the garage had been littered with bullets, claiming shots were focused on a specific ramp on the way in to the shop.

Solicitors speaking for one of the released men, who has complained in the past about harassment, accused the PSNI of 'cynical policing' and keeping their client for 48 hours 'without a shred of evidence being put to him'. The man, they added, was considering legal action.

Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mark Lindsay, said his wounded colleague was "in good enough spirits, as good as you could expect in the circumstances".

"News that our colleague is making progress will give a great lift to his colleagues and the countless people who got in touch to register their abhorrence at the attack and extend their best wishes to the officer," he said.

"The claim of responsibility by the dissident grouping is a sickening reminder of the warped thinking of these people.

"They are outdated, out of step and out of ideas. The only thing they have to offer is misery. They're a heartless bunch of thugs who don't care who they hurt, so long as they can shock a community and grab a cheap headline.

"The community has moved on but these would-be murderers labour under a mistaken belief that they have a legitimate objective and are entitled to use whatever means are at their disposal to pursue a campaign that's only capable of delivering misery and heartache."

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes said: "Detectives are continuing to investigate the attempted murder of a police officer on Sunday night.

"Attacks like these are premeditated - they do take planning. The PSNI will continue to make enquiries into those who are responsible. In a democracy the police are tasked with following the evidence without fear or favour and in accordance with the law. It is the police's duty to make relevant enquiries, interview those with information, arrest and question suspects."

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