Belfast Telegraph

Police facing fresh terror threat

By Darwin Templeton

SECURITY chiefs were facing a new threat from the Real IRA today after two RUC men and a woman civilian were shot and wounded at a south Derry polling station.

SECURITY chiefs were facing a new threat from the Real IRA today after two RUC men and a woman civilian were shot and wounded at a south Derry polling station.

The three victims were hit when a gunman leapt from a car and opened fire into St Mary's Primary School in Draperstown around 9.45pm.

One of the RUC men - who were locally-based full-time reservists - managed to return fire in spite of his injuries. Panic broke out among some 150 people who were queuing to cast their votes just 15 minutes before the polls were due to close.

One RUC man was hit in the shoulder, the other in the arm, while the woman, a 21-year-old student, was struck on the upper leg. None of the injuries is life-threatening. A short time later two men were arrested and were today being quizzed at Gough Barracks in Armagh.

A silver-coloured Volkswagen Passat found ablaze near Cookstown is thought to have been used by the terrorists, but detectives are also interested in the movements of a white Toyota Corolla.

As the hunt for the gunmen continued, RUC chiefs were analysing what is being seen as a switch in tactics by the Real IRA, which until now has concentrated on bomb attacks on security bases.

It is thought to be the first time a republican gunman has opened fire on police at close range since the murder of two RUC men in Lurgan in 1997.

Intelligence reports had warned that the Real IRA were targeting RUC officers on duty for a gun attack.

The location for the murder bid - in the Mid-Ulster Westminster constituency - is thought to have been chosen in an attempt to embarrass Martin McGuinness.

There were concerns loyalist hardliners, particularly in the north of the province, might call for retaliation.

Assistant Chief Constable for North Region Sam Kinkaid, who visited the injured in hospital last night with the Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan, hit out at the gunmen.

He said: "Here we had members of the public exercising their democratic right to vote and that right was violated.

"You also had two police officers who were perfectly entitled to be carrying out their lawful duties without being shot at."

Referring to the dissident republicans, Mr Kinkaid said: "This group are so unpopular that they don't even put candidates up for election."

The RUC chief said he would be reviewing tactics following the shooting.

Political condemnation was led by Secretary of State Dr John Reid.

He said: "They have no principles, they have no mandate and they dare not seek a mandate because what they represent has been rejected time and again by the people of Ireland, north and south."

SDLP Assemblyman Denis Haughey branded the terrorists "hate-filled hooligans" and called for the public to co-operate with the police.

DUP leader Ian Paisley said that gun attack was a republican response to an "immense" loyalist turnout at the polls.

Belfast Telegraph

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