Police probe masked gang's chilling threats to officers and parades body
Police are attempting to determine the capability of a new loyalist paramilitary group that has issued death threats to members of the PSNI and Parades Commission.
The unnamed group released a photograph yesterday of three masked men with four guns along with a statement claiming that the PSNI and Parades Commission were "legitimate targets" because of how Monday's Orange Order parade was policed in north Belfast.
According to a source, the weapons are two Webley 38-200 handguns, a Sten Mark 4 sub-machine gun and a FAL semi-automatic rifle. He said they are similar to those that would have been used by the British Army several decades ago.
"If they were going to pose with replica firearms, surely they would have chosen more modern replicas.
"This would lead me to suspect that these weapons are real. But we do not know if they have bullets for them," the source said.
Investigations are under way by the PSNI into the identity of the masked loyalists.
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said he was "shocked" by the sinister threats. "I'm not just surprised, I would say that I am shocked to hear about this. Violence doesn't pay and I would condemn these threats," he said.
Mr Hutchinson added: "Unfortunately, there are young people out there who are saying that the only way forward is through violence. That is what the Parades Commission are driving people to. The Parades Commission needs changed."
Photographs were issued to the media showing the three masked men in paramilitary-style clothing, sitting at a table with what appear to be two handguns and two semi-automatic weapons. The group released a statement saying that after Monday night's "brutal assault upon the PUL (Protestant unionist loyalist) community and the random firing of baton rounds aimed to seriously injure our people we are left with no other option but to announce the PSNI and Parades Commission are legitimate targets".
The group added: "We do not want to take this course of action but our people have suffered enough over the last few years and we as disengaged and disgruntled loyalists feel like the time has come for us to take action. No Surrender."
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin described the threats as "vile" and "deplorable".
"We are aware that a very concerning photograph and statement have been circulated to some local media outlets today which we are investigating.
"Threatening the lives of serving police officers, staff and members of the Parades Commission for simply doing their jobs, is sickening and deplorable," Mr Martin said.
He added: "Threats against police or any other body, have to be completely rejected and condemned by society and I am sure that the vast majority of people will stand with us and roundly denounce these vile threats and the individuals who made them."
Earlier in the day, Mr Martin had said there had been no paramilitary organisation behind the violence in north Belfast on Monday. He said youths exploiting the situation were responsible. A number of baton rounds were fired and water cannon deployed after violence erupted in the area.
It is understood that earlier in the evening the UVF had ordered there be no violence.