'Significant weaponry' used in attack on police car shot at in west Belfast
Police have said "significant weaponry" was used in a murder bid on police officers in west Belfast last night.
Police released a picture of an unmarked car, shot at least seven times, in which two officers narrowly escaped death in the early evening attack.
Several rounds hit the passenger side of the car but neither of the two officers was physically injured given the vehicle's armoured plating.
The PSNI are treating the attack as attempted murder, with dissident republicans the main suspects.
PSNI says officers in this car have been left badly shaken by last night's shooting in West Belfast pic.twitter.com/nnPkuUw8Gy— Deborah McAleese (@DeborahMcAleese) November 27, 2015
The police car was struck 7 times during last night's attack. More shots may have been fired, chief superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said— Deborah McAleese (@DeborahMcAleese) November 27, 2015
Eyewitnesses described a gunman with a Kalashnikov rifle.
Belfast Commander Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said: "This was a mindless and reckless attempt to kill police officers who were carrying out routine duties as part of an investigation into recent serious crime in the area.
"Thankfully it failed. The two officers were badly shaken but not physically injured. Detectives have begun an investigation into this attempted murder.
“We believe the gunman made off from the scene, in a Black BMW 3 Series which was waiting in Tullagh Park. The vehicle which was bearing false numberplates: 05 C 24774, was subsequently found abandoned on fire at Cluain More Drive in west Belfast.
“I appeal to anyone in the community with information about this incident or the black BMW to contact detectives at Ladas Drive in Belfast on 101. Alternatively, information can be given anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."
He added: "A major investigation is currently underway and I am not in a position to discuss any further details at this time.
"This shooting will not deter these officers or their colleagues from providing a much needed and increasingly valued police service in west Belfast.
"Police Officers are members of communities across Northern Ireland and we remain determined to work with all communities to keep people safe. We are equally determined to provide the fullest protection to our officers when they are on duty.
"We will review our procedures in light of this gun attack but we will not be deterred from providing a comprehensive and community-based policing service. Those who believe that trying to kill our officers will achieve anything are deluded."
The officers were shot at while sat in an unmarked police car parked at the Rossnareen Avenue home of Martin Gavin, the Traveller shot in the head last week.
An eyewitness told the Belfast Telegraph the gunman calmly picked up spent shell casings from the ground before making his escape in another car. A vehicle was found burnt out in the Beechmount area shortly afterwards.
"The police car had been sitting there for days," said a local man. "It was an easy target."
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers described it as "a shocking attack".
"The people behind this despicable crime will rightly attract condemnation from right across the community," she said.
Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay also condemned the shooting. "The officers were very lucky they weren't injured," he said. "This was absolute madness in a built-up area. These officers were there to serve their community.
"We have consistently been saying we don't have enough police officers in Northern Ireland. There are still people out there trying to murder officers."
Justice Minister David Ford added: "This was clearly an attempt to kill police officers. Those responsible for this cowardly act have also shown absolutely no regard for local residents. I am very thankful that no one was injured."
Speaking at the scene, SDLP councillor Tim Attwood, said: "This is shocking. The police were following up on the attack last week in this area. It's obvious that there are some people who want to use a wet night and dark alleys to seize their moment to attack the police."
Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Ross Hussey called the incident a reminder we have terrorists on our own doorstep. "Whoever did this is the lowest of the low," he added. "The cowards must be tracked down and put behind bars."
And DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said: "I am appalled. We could have been talking about murder tonight, but thankfully these officers have escaped injury. We need the community to show them support and give police any information they have."
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey also hit out at those responsible. "The attack on the PSNI in the Rossnareen Avenue area of west Belfast was totally wrong and I condemn it outright," he said.
"Those responsible have nothing to offer the community. They do not speak for local people and they need to end these reckless and futile actions immediately."