Northern Ireland hotel staff terrorised as hooded gunmen threaten them and fire shot at van
Police seal off scene in border village of Belleek as getaway vehicle found burnt-out
Four hooded gunmen threatened a group of workers at a Fermanagh hotel before firing a shot at a van in what has been termed a "senseless act of violence".
The sinister incident took place at the Carlton Hotel in the border village of Belleek at around 9.30am yesterday.
Four armed men wearing balaclavas jumped out of a dark coloured vehicle and entered the hotel, where they threatened a staff member.
A shot from what's thought to be a rifle, was then fired at a cleaning van parked directly outside the hotel.
The cleaning company had been working at the hotel for the past few days as the venue was planning to re-open at Christmas, after being closed for almost three and a half years.
A large contingent of police came to the scene by road and by Lough Erne to seal off the area, which is only 60 metres from the Donegal border.
Local sources said the masked men were armed with a rifle and a small machine gun.
A vehicle was later found burnt out about two miles from the village.
The attack comes within two weeks of new owner Sam Morrison announcing he was hoping to reopen the hotel for business in time for the festive season.
Detective Inspector Trevor Stevenson said all the men were wearing dark coloured overalls with white stripes and balaclavas.
He has appealed for any witnesses to come forward.
"They fired one shot into the van of a contractor working there before making off," he said.
"There was no one in the van at the time and no one sustained any injuries during the incident.
"The men made off in a black coloured Ford Escort car in the direction of the border.
"A car matching the description was discovered on fire a short time later in the Derrynacross Road area of Garrison, where it is believed the four males then left in a second, unknown vehicle.
"Local officers are continuing to work closely with An Garda Siochana to trace their movements.
"I would appeal to anyone who may have noticed any suspicious activity in the Main Street area of Belleek yesterday morning or anyone who may have witnessed the men abandoning the Ford Escort car in the Derrynacross Road area of Garrison to contact detectives at Enniskillen."
Fermanagh MP Tom Elliott condemned the shooting as an "unwelcome reminder of the dark days we all want to put behind us.
"Belleek is a quiet Fermanagh border village and this incident will have come as a complete shock to the local community," he said.
"It is a reminder that we are still plagued by those who are intent on murder, attempted murder and disruption, and of dark days which we all want to put behind us.
"Bearing in mind the fact that the gang fled in the direction of the Republic, it is clear that this investigation will be a joint one between the PSNI and the Garda.
"I appeal to anyone who saw anything suspicious in Belleek around 9.30am to come forward immediately and help catch these dangerous criminals."
Local SDLP councillor John Coyle added his condemnation, describing the incident as a "senseless act of violence".
"Firearms have no place in our society and this is totally unacceptable," he said.
"Belleek is my home village and along with many others I have been working to make sure it is seen as a warm, welcoming and vibrant village and a safe place to come to.
"Yesterday's act is an attempt to undo all this good work, but we will not be deterred."
The three-star hotel was bought for £300,000 in March 2013, when it was expected to re-open for the G8 Summit.
It includes 35 bedrooms and is located on a prominent position on the banks of the River Erne.
It once employed 25 people, and had recently advertised for a number of positions.
The new owner is Ballymena-based businessman Sam Morrison, owner of Corbo, one of Northern Ireland's largest property firms.
A spokesman said earlier this month that they intended to be open by Christmas.
"There has already been huge interest in the jobs advertised, which gives us great enthusiasm that the hotel will be well supported by local people when it re-opens," the spokesman had said.