Leading republican Pat Fitzpatrick has told stunned friends how he was inches from being killed by a masked assassin.
A bulletproof jacket saved the 58-year-old's life when a lone gunman blasted him the back as he walked through the Short Strand district of east Belfast on Saturday evening.
This is the second time that Fitzpatrick has survived a murder bid. In 1988 he lost an eye when a UVF gang opened fire on him as he sat in his taxi.
A good friend of Sinn Fein Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, the injured grandfather was also close to slain IRA chief Jock Davison, who was gunned down by criminals in 2015. Detectives' main line of inquiry is that the weekend attempt on his life may have been carried out by the same gang.
Speaking from his hospital bed on Saturday night Fitzpatrick, known as 'Pat Fitzy' by republicans, told friends that he cheated death by inches.
"Pat Fitzy was saying that if the gunman had aimed at his head rather than his back he would be dead," one source told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The bulletproof jacket saved his life. If he had not been wearing it he wouldn't have stood a chance.
"You can tell from the wound on his back how much damage would have been caused if it weren't for the body armour. There is a huge red welt on his back caused by the impact from the bullet."
Fitzpatrick, who is from the Markets area of Belfast and is well-regarded in republican circles, was convicted in 2016 of possessing a police-issue Glock pistol and six rounds of ammunition with intent, and having the weapon without a certificate.
He armed himself with the handgun over fears that he would be murdered by the criminal gang which shot dead his Provo pal Davison.
The man Fitzpatrick feared the most was Kevin McGuigan Snr, who was blamed by republicans for carrying out the killing, which he denied.
Paranoid that McGuigan had been seen outside his west Belfast home, Fitzpatrick armed himself with the Glock 19 pistol that had been stolen from the PSNI.
The weapon was among a cache that Davison in his capacity as the IRA's Belfast leader held back from decommissioning in 2005 for what sources have described as "defence purposes". Insiders claim that the handgun was stolen from police the previous year during raids on the homes of republicans following the IRA's £26m Northern Bank robbery.
Among the properties searched was that of top Provo Sean 'Spike' Murray in west Belfast. While cops pulled his property apart the holstered Glock was left unattended in an unlocked PSNI vehicle parked outside.
Our sources insist it was stolen by a republican sympathiser and handed over to the IRA. Jock Davison ended up in possession of the handgun which was held back from decommissioning.
Only the IRA boss and a group of his closest friends including Pat Fitzpatrick knew of its whereabouts.
They were also given strict instructions that the 'clean' Glock - which had no paramilitary history - was to be used solely for defence purposes.
In August 2015, two months after the Davison execution, McGuigan himself was shot dead by pals of the Provo chief. He was gunned down outside his heavily fortified east Belfast home in front of his screaming wife Dolores.
Immediately afterwards police raided the homes of republicans who were closest to Davison, including that of Pat Fitzpatrick.
When heavily-armed police hit the house he attempted to escape out the back door with the stolen PSNI Glock 19.
But Fitzpatrick noticed officers in the garden so he turned and went inside the property. He was eventually arrested in a downstairs bedroom in which the handgun and ammunition were discovered.
When Fitzpatrick appeared in the dock of Lisburn Magistrates Court the following day a detective revealed the Glock's identification markings had been removed.
"This shows a forensic awareness," he said.
The detective also confirmed that the raid on Fitzpatrick's home was connected to the Kevin McGuigan murder investigation, saying: "He remains a suspect in the murder of Kevin McGuigan."
It was further revealed that Fitzpatrick had been a member of a gun club and previously held a firearms licence, but this had expired."
The court was then told that the republican remained silent during 14 police interviews, but did present a written statement in which he accepted possession of the weapon.
Fitzpatrick's solicitor said his client obtained it to "protect his family", and that "he was only going to be using this in a defensive way".
It was explained that Fitzpatrick was in poor health having suffered near fatal liver failure.
His solicitor said this had been brought on my pain medication the republican had been taking since being shot in the face at point-blank range in a 1988 loyalist assassination attempt.
A week after surviving the murder bid his good friend Brendan 'Ruby' Davison was gunned down at his home by the UVF.
Ruby Davison was the uncle of Jock Davison, and like his nephew was the Provisional IRA's Belfast OC when he was assassinated.
Pat Fitzpatrick, then aged 27, was pictured at the wake of Ruby Davison sitting next to his friend's coffin with bandages covering the UVF bullet wounds to his eye and arm.
Prior to being convicted of possessing the stolen PSNI gun Fitzpatrick was considered a key Sinn Fein supporter in south Belfast.
In June 2015 he was pictured at a Sinn Fein event alongside the party's former council candidate Cora Grogan.
And in March 2013 Fitzpatrick was photographed with Sinn Fein's Belfast city councillor Deirdre Hargey at a commemoration for teenage IRA member Jim Templeton on the Ormeau Road.