The murder of loyalist Bobby Moffat on Belfast's Shankill Road has sparked fears tonight of another bloody internal feud between rival gangs.
Moffat, understood to be a member of the Red Hand Commando (RHC) terror group, was gunned down on Belfast's Shankill Road in front of dozens of shocked bystanders, including young children, in a merciless lunchtime attack reminiscent of the dark days of the Troubles.
The 44-year-old was shot a number of times in the face by two masked gunmen in an assassination that has been blamed on renegade elements within the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) - a mainstream paramilitary group with historic ties to the RHCs.
While the murder will spark concerns of a tit-for-tat retaliatory strike, it is unlikely to destabilise the wider political process, with the shooting understood to be linked to a personal dispute.
The gun attack comes less than a year after the UVF leadership declared it had decommissioned all weapons under its control.
Police described the murder as "a cold-blooded, ruthless killing".
"It is a chilling reminder of a violent past that everyone in the community hoped we had left behind," said a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokesman.
"Police are following a number of definite lines of inquiry and will work with determination and professionalism to catch the killers."
The Shankill Road, a broad thoroughfare linking the city centre with the north west of Belfast, was the scene of much bloodshed during the Troubles and since the ceasefires of the 1990s has witnessed a number of killings linked to turf wars between loyalist paramilitary groups.
Ulster Unionist Party member Bill Manwaring arrived at the scene, yards from a loyalist mural, and tried to offer first aid to the victim.
He said the dead man had suffered severe injuries to his face and hand, and added: "By the time I had arrived, it had already happened. Some colleagues were helping put him in the recovery position.
"The injuries were horrific and young children were on the street when this happened."
He added: "We had 40 years of this area suffering from this kind of activity and there is no reason for this. It is unacceptable."
A local resident who witnessed the shooting said: "I thought it was a car backfiring. I heard about four shots and saw the gunmen standing in the middle of the road wearing balaclavas and orange tops.
"I saw the bloke lying there. I think he was shot in the head or the face."
He said the gunmen ran off through nearby Conway Street and escaped from the scene, which was by then packed with members of the public.
"The area was very busy," he said. "People came running out from the shops, the place was black with people."
Bandages and a spot of blood on the road marked where the victim fell and where paramedics tried to save his life.
A double-decker bus was parked inside the police cordon, while people looked on from nearby bookmakers and bars.
The shooting took place close to a packed Jobs and Benefits Office, where staff continued their work despite the police operation around them. They issued cheques at the gate of the building to ensure local people got their benefits over the bank holiday weekend.
Stormont social development minister and West Belfast AM Alex Attwood said bystanders were in deep shock.
"It is a terrible deed, a terrible thing has happened today that a person has been murdered," said the SDLP representative.
"It has happened on the Shankill Road in broad daylight in front of local people. The people will be traumatised and we have to express our sympathy and urge people to keep calm and not rush to judgment."
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds condemned the murder.
The DUP representative said: "Everyone will have been shocked and horrified by this incident where someone has been murdered in broad daylight.
"No-one has the right to take the life of another human being and we all want to ensure that Northern Ireland continues to move away from times when reports such as this were all too common.
"The police are working to establish the full facts surrounding what has happened and to bring those responsible to justice.
"I would hope that anyone who was in the area and who might have seen anything which could be of help to the police will pass that information on."
Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford condemned the murder and said: "This cold-blooded murder in broad daylight will shock people across Northern Ireland.
"Those who carried out this killing are to be condemned and anyone with any information should bring it to the police."
Paul Maskey, Sinn Fein Assembly member for West Belfast, said: "Whatever the circumstances surrounding this shooting or whoever was involved in it, this should not have happened and it is now crucial that the PSNI are given every assistance from the community in that area to apprehend those responsible.
"People in the Shankill, in common with communities across west Belfast and elsewhere, want to be able to go about their everyday lives free from the threat of this sort of violence."
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson tonight condemned the shooting.
"To murder this man was an evil act but to do it in the middle of the day, on a busy road full of local people going about their normal business, only adds to the horror and the sense of shock and revulsion," he said.
"Anyone who could carry out such a barbaric act is a threat to the whole community."
Mr Paterson urged anyone with information to contact the police without delay.