Belfast Telegraph

Hunt for Belfast bomber who set himself on fire in botched attack

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

The hunt is continuing for a would-be firebomber who ran through dozens of stunned Christmas shoppers while engulfed in flames.

Minutes before the man had walked into a golf shop at Cornmarket in the centre of Belfast.

He had intended to plant an incendiary device but it went off under his jacket, setting his head and body ablaze.

A member of staff kicked the device into the street after the dissident bomber ran off.

Yesterday the only evidence of the botched terror attack at the Golf Madness outlet was a small scorch mark on carpet at the entrance to the shop.

Nick Pierpoint, a co-owner of the golf store, said he initially thought the man had set himself alight with a cigarette.

"The guy came in and started fidgeting with his pockets and looking agitated," he said.

"He was engulfed in flames within seconds. He wasn't shouting or screaming, he just ran off.

"My first thought was this guy's coat or bag has caught fire from a cigarette or something. You never think 'this guy has an incendiary device'."

Around a dozen customers looked on in amazement, Mr Pierpoint said.

Despite the events of the previous evening, business was brisk at the shop yesterday, with Mr Pierpoint praising the community for its support following the attack.

The golf store is a pop-up shop, opening its doors just last month, and is set to close again on Christmas Eve.

Mr Pierpoint said the fact it had less security measures than established retail outlets made it "a soft touch" for Monday's attack.

The man ran from the store and through scores of startled shoppers in the Cornmarket area.

Police said they believed the suspect is in his mid-40s, about 6ft and of plump build. He was wearing a dark waterproof jacket.

"We believe that this man may require treatment for burns to his neck or face," said Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum.

"We would appeal to any care provider who may already have been approached or who is approached today by a male in his 40s with burns to the neck or face to contact detectives." Police are examining the device for forensic clues. They are also trawling CCTV from the area.

The incendiary attack was the latest security alert in the commercial heart of Belfast.

Extremists have stepped up the number of terror attacks in the days before Christmas in an effort to cripple festive trade.

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott said people behind such attacks were enemies of Belfast.

"Mercifully, no members of the public were injured, but it is a sobering reminder that there are still fanatics out there who care nothing for the safety of others or the economic wellbeing of our city and country," he said.

Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh added: "Being wedded to using physical force for the sake of it and not facing the reality that it has miniscule support and actually will not achieve anything is plainly self-defeating."

The attacks on Belfast are drawing attention across the UK with the Guardian publishing a leader article praising consumers who are defying the bombers and supporting traders by refusing to stay away from the city centre.

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