Belfast Telegraph

Botanic murder: Normally vibrant Belfast area deserted as forensic officers hunt for clues after fatal knife attack

By Chris Kilpatrick

Renowned as a hub of social activity, the usually vibrant Botanic Avenue was for once deserted.

A vast police cordon prevented the public from getting near the scene of a bloody and brutal attack that left one man dead.

Blue and white police tape cordoned off the entire stretch from Shaftesbury Square to University Street. Botanic train halt was also shut off.

The spot where the victim fell, just yards away from a bookmaker's at the corner of Cameron Street, was marked by a large yellow and white police tent.

A short distance away another had been erected where two knives believed to have been used in the murder were recovered. Terrified witnesses called police as the horrific stabbing took place, with officers arriving and detaining a suspect within minutes.

He is said to have been shouting various slogans, including a number of pro-Islamic references.

However, police are not treating the incident as a hate crime.

One scenario being probed by detectives is that the victim and his attacker had been at a property in India Street where an altercation then ensued.

It may have continued onto the street, where the slaying took place.

The district, popular with students and visitors, sits between the university area and the city centre and its shops, coffee houses, eateries and bars draw many people to the area every day.

The normally busy thoroughfare was closed to all other than the detectives and forensic officers working to piece together what happened hours earlier.

As they watched the investigators go about their work, residents and passersby told of their shock.

Many stood for prolonged periods of time, apparently oblivious to the freezing weather conditions.

A young female student was distraught at what had happened close to where she shares a house with friends.

"What was the sense in that?" she said.

"What motivates people to do that?"

A man from west Africa said he was frightened by news of what happened.

"I came here three years ago. This is scary. I feel very safe in Belfast."

Visitors from Spain and France took pictures of the police operation.

"I'm staying just behind there," a man from France said.

"I didn't know anything until I went to try and get breakfast.

"Somebody said a man was attacked by a machete. If true, it is very bad."

Patrick Yu from the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities said there was a sizeable Asian population in the south of the city.

He said the murder had caused a lot of fear.

South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell described the murder as a "gruesome and horrifying crime".

"This was a violent and vicious attack in an area that is home to families and students," the SDLP representative said.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the victim's family and friends as they learn of the tragic loss of a loved one. This is a close-knit community and I know that they will rally around them in the days and weeks ahead."

PSNI Superintendent Paula Hilman thanked traders affected by yesterday's police operation for their patience as forensic examinations continued.

"We recognise the impact this murder has had on local residents and local businesses," she said.

"We thank them for their co-operation while we are holding the scene of the incident.

"We are doing so to ensure that all available evidence is recovered. We will reopen the road as soon as possible. I would appeal to anyone with information to come forward to detectives."

The officer leading the investigation into the murder, Detective Chief Inspector Richard Campbell from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said the victim had been stabbed multiple times.

"Shortly after five o'clock this morning police received a telephone call from a member of the public that a man was lying on the road in Botanic Avenue with a number of injuries," he said.

"A short time later a man in his 30s was arrested by police in the immediate area. He has been taken into custody and will be interviewed later.

"Both men are foreign nationals. The suspect is believed to be of African descent.

"The victim's nationality is still being confirmed.

"However, initial inquiries suggest he may be a Pakistani national."

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