Belfast Telegraph

North Belfast shooting: Injured officer 'recovering well' as police appeal for information on Audi car

Police investigating the attempted murder of a police officer on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast have arrested two more men aged 30 and 39.

The officer, shot as he left the petrol station at around 7.30pm on Sunday, was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he is said to be recovering well.

It is thought the officer's body armour may have saved him from further harm. The gunshot wounds caused significant damage to his arm. He was in theatre for over three hours overnight and will have further surgery in the days ahead.

Police say that a 36-year-old man who was arrested remains in custody and is assisting police with their enquiries.

A PSNI detective has appealed for information about car used in the attack.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes said on Monday: "The investigation into the shooting of a community police officer in north Belfast last night is progressing and I’m appealing for information about a car we believe was used in the attack.

"We would like to trace the movements of a dark red Audi A4 Estate, registration number KNZ 2862. It’s around 15 years old - an old-style model. We believe it was used by those involved to leave the scene following the shooting.

"I am keen to hear from anyone who saw the vehicle around the Flax Street and Crumlin Road around 7.30pm last night and in Culmore Gardens about 30 minutes later at 8pm where it was found burnt out. I’d also like to hear from anyone who noticed this car and its movements during December 2016 up to last night’s shooting.

"We have recovered bullets from a number of locations on the forecourt and in several cars. Any one of these could quite easily killed or seriously injured local people, including the children who were at the station. Had any of the bullets hit the fuel containers we may have also been facing casualties from an explosion. It was completely reckless.

"I’m pleased to say the community police officer who sustained two bullet wounds to his arm has now undergone surgery and is recovering well in hospital.

"I would ask anyone with information to phone 101 or if you would prefer to remain anonymous contact independent charity Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Chief Constable full statement on officer shooting

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said the petrol station was sprayed with automatic gunfire during the attack, putting "other members of the community at massive risk".

"The people who did this did not care who they murdered last night, albeit it was clear the attack was aimed at the police officers on duty."

Bravery and professionalism

Mr Hamilton spoke to the media after visiting the wounded officer in hospital. He said he believed a high velocity rifle was used in the attack. No weapon has been recovered.

He said it was a "completely reckless" attack and described "multiple strike marks on the forecourt" of the filling station.

Mr Hamilton said it was unlikely that shots were fired from the Audi vehicle recovered by police after the attack. He said it was more likely shots were fired from "behind fencing across from the garage" as two officers emerged from the shop.

Praising his officer, Mr Hamilton said he never ceases to be amazed by their "bravery and professionalism". He said the officer was "in good spirits".

Mr Hamilton said the current political crisis and instability "does not legitimise" the attack.

"The use of violence for any sort of political objectives hasn't worked in the past and it is certainly not going to work in the future. We will not be deterred from our public service.

"We are also relentless in pursuing them to lock them up and take them before the courts."

Speaking earlier he told the BBC: "This is an attack on the entire community, people walking from the forecourt to their cars with bullets whizzing round them and striking the garage forecourt."

"Incidents of this nature don't happen ad hoc or in an opportunistic way," he said.

"We'd be pretty convinced this is a planned operation to attack a police officer.

"But it was actually an attack on the whole community - there were people filling their cars on that garage forecourt.

Speaking on Sunday night, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said their main line of enquiry is violent dissident republicans .

He said: "It is totally unnecessary, appalling and needs to be condemned by all sides of this community."

Mr Hamilton appealed for anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in the area to come forward to police immediately.

"Particularly if you saw an Audi type vehicle at the filling station around 7.30pm. Did you see anyone suspicious? Did you hear the shots? Did you see anyone running away?

"This wasn't just an attack upon the police, it was very clearly an attack upon the community, other lives could easily have been lost tonight.

"We assure everyone that every resource we have will be turned to face this now."

Politicians condemn the attack

The former first minister said the shooting in north Belfast "is a reminder to us all of the dangers that still exist in Northern Ireland".

"Within our society there still remain those who will use terrorism, threats and violence to advance their warped aims," she said.

"It is a reminder of the threat which still exists in our society and a reminder too of the need to maintain and secure the progress that we have made. It should serve as a focus for us all to stand united against those who would drag Northern Ireland back towards violence.

"A terrorist attack such as this brings back many painful memories to those who have lost loved ones at the hands of terrorists in the past. It raises questions too, with continued activity such as this, how those suspected of such serious terrorist offences can be granted bail."

Mrs Foster said that being a police officer is much more than just a job - "it is a way of life," she said.

"Those who serve in the PSNI, to uphold law and order without fear or favour, are a world away from the cowards who hide in the shadows and target them."

The Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, said he was "shocked and appalled" by the shooting.

"To attack officers who are going about their daily duty protecting the entire community is sickening," he said.

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, branded it "an appalling act"

"This attack on the life of an officer is a stark reminder of the determination on the part of terrorists to murder and maim police officers," he said.

"They believe that by causing great grief to a family they are somehow advancing their warped and outdated plan. The wider community will be outraged by this attack on one of their police officers."

Justice Minister Claire Sugden described the attack as "mindless". She added: "The people who carried out this shooting did so with the sole intention of dragging Northern Ireland back to darker days. This is a sickening act which could easily have led to a loss of life."

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds described it as a "despicable act of terrorism".

"This is a deeply disturbing incident which echoes back to the kind of terrorism we used to face on a daily basis," he said.

"We must be mindful how a threat to the future of the political institutions can create a vacuum, which terrorists such as these will seek to fill."

His DUP colleague and Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said he was "appalled to hear of a shooting incident".

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said his "thoughts are with officer for full recovery and with family and friends".

"We must find a way to end this," he added.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "Those involved in the drive-by attempted murder of a police officer are dispicable cowards determined to destroy the peace we all enjoy.

"They represent no-one and offer nothing but misery."

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said those responsible for the attack "are the same people who are attacking the local community".

"They have absolutely nothing to offer society and need to call a halt to these activities immediately," he added.

SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said those responsible were calculating criminals, intent on destabilising society. She said: "This community has rejected the men of violence before and it will do so again. There will be no cover given to those who seek to destabilise our progress and bring mayhem back to our streets."

TUV leader Jim Allister said the attack "is a reminder of the wickedness and criminality of all terrorism, no matter who it is committed by or when".

"Whether it was the Provos vile campaign of decades, or their successors campaign of today, terrorism is never justified," he added.

Policing Board chair Anne Connolly said: "This wasn't just a shocking and utterly senseless attack on an officer but on the whole of the PSNI who are working hard to keep our community safe, and on the wider community."

The Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor said his prayers were with the injured police officer, his family and the PSNI.

He added: "This attack upon a member of the police force which serves the entire community is alien to the widespread desire, hope and prayer for stability and peace in a shared society."

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan condemned the attack in a tweet: "No excuse for such criminality. I wish the officer a full recovery."

PUP Councillor Julie-Ann Corr-Johnston said: "This was not just an attack on the police - it was an attack on everyone who wants to see Northern Ireland move forward into a peaceful and stable future."

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