Terror as police disarm gunman
Horrified shoppers fled in terror when a man carried a shotgun into a city centre shopping centre on one of the busiest trading days of the year.
Hundreds of people including mothers, babies and pensioners evacuated Debenhams in Castlecourt when the 22-year-old gunman was wrestled to the ground by armed police officers.
Inside the store at least five officers from the armed response unit surrounded the gunman in the vicinity of the Mac/Yves Saint Laurent counter.
It is understood that some officers drew taser weapons but they were not discharged.
The handcuffed perpetrator was escorted by officers from the premises at around 2.45pm.
Coleen Matovu, who was standing beside the armed man, tweeted yesterday: "Got caught up in a mad situation in Belfast today. I was standing right beside the guy the cops took down! Honestly I have never thought I was going to die like that! I was right beside it - probably one of the closest eyewitnesses. "The words 'drop the gun' being shouted will never leave my memory!"
Elizabeth Boal, who was enjoying the post-Christmas sales, was just metres away when the drama unfolded in the make-up area close to the main doors.
She said: "I heard 'everybody get down'. It was terrifying. I was with my mum and I started looking for her. I was screaming my mum's name. She did not know what was going on."
According to eyewitnesses the man had been acting suspiciously in the store when an assistant spotted the gun in a bag he was carrying and alerted security.
Brave staff, who have been praised by shoppers for their handling of the situation, hastily escorted people from the premises.
One Larne woman who was trying on clothes in the changing rooms at the time said: "We just heard the commotion, we were ushered out very quickly.
"It was done very professionally. We weren't told by staff what was happening, she said she would tell us when we got back in."
She added: "The staff were very good, they could not have evacuated that store any quicker."
As well as being escorted from Debenhams, security staff from Westfield, which owns Castlecourt, cordoned off the main entrance to Debenhams to prevent people from entering the store.
An eyewitness who saw the gunman being placed into a police car recalled: "He appeared to be in mid-twenties, with short light brown hair, around 5ft 10ins and was wearing a grey hooded top and light blue jeans.
"As he was led away through the side entrance of Debenhams, he was shouting abuse. Police were carrying what appeared to be a shotgun.
"He was very aggressive and tried to lunge at a photographer. He was shouting 'don't you take pictures of me, I'll get you'."
A PSNI spokesman said: "A 22-year-old man has been arrested after a report of an incident at premises in the Royal Avenue area. At around 2:20pm, it was reported that a man was seen acting suspiciously in a shop in the area. It is believed that the man was in possession of a suspected firearm during the incident.
"The man was arrested shortly afterwards, has been taken to Musgrave Custody Suite and is currently helping police with their enquiries. The suspected firearm has been recovered by officers."
A Debenhams spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that a man was detained by police in our Belfast store today.
"We take the safety of our employees and customers extremely seriously and the authorities were called as soon as our security staff became suspicious."