Loyalist paramilitaries blamed for 'barbaric' shooting of young Belfast woman
Loyalist paramilitaries have been blamed for shooting a young woman in east Belfast.
The outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force is believed to have been behind the gun attack in which the 24-year-old victim was hit up to five times.
The woman is in a stable condition in hospital and is being treated for injuries to her lower abdomen, hips and knees.
Politicians have described the attack, which happened in the Lord Street Mews area at about 10.40pm last night, as barbaric.
It is understood the woman, who is single, is from the local area and had been living at the house for several years.
Neighbours in the quiet cul-de-sac just off Beersbridge Road in the heartland of loyalist east Belfast recalled hearing several loud bangs or cracks but mistook the shots for fireworks.
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said there was no justification for bringing guns on to the streets.
He said: "I totally and utterly condemn this. It is deplorable, sickening and disgusting. It is ten times worse whenever a female is involved.
"Regardless of the reasons that people carried out this attack it is attempted murder and someone has tried to take the law into their own hands to act as judge, jury and executioner."
East Belfast MP Naomi Long described the attack as "utterly appalling and barbaric" and urged anyone with information to give it to police.
Democratic Unionist MLA Robin Newton said the shooting was an attempt to drag the community backwards.
"There can be no justification for this dreadful act and society needs to move away from such barbaric behaviour," he said.
"This type of action drags the community back to the bad old days when there is a great desire across society to move on to better days."
A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland appealed for any witnesses to come forward.
Even at the height of the Trouble punishment type shootings on women were rare. According to police statistics there were only two such attacks during the early 1990s.
The UVF has been trying to flex its muscles in east Belfast over recent months.
Last month a cache of weapons and ammunition was found hidden in woodland in the area. Police described the haul of 16 semi-automatic handguns and 800 rounds of ammunition believed to have come from Eastern Europe as among the biggest finds in recent years.
Last week there was a huge public outcry after a mural of footballing hero George Best was replaced with a menacing image of a masked UVF gunman.
Later, it was revealed the woman had suffered gunshot wounds to her left arms as well as her abdomen and legs during the incident.
The PSNI has confirmed that detectives were now treating the attack as attempted murder.
A police spokesman said: "The investigation into the incident is in its early stages and several lines of enquiry are being investigated.
"Police are treating this incident as attempted murder and would appeal to anyone who witnessed this incident or anyone who has any information to contact them."