A 22-year-old Catholic man is recovering in hospital after being beaten by a gang armed with iron bars and a hatchet in front of his partner and new baby.
Dee Sturgeon was attacked in his house by a masked gang of loyalists in Ballygomartin estate on the outskirts of west Belfast.
The gang broke windows and forced their way into the private rented property shortly before 9.40pm on Friday and attacked him. The gang beat their victim in front of his terrified girlfriend, a Protestant, and their eleven-week-old baby. He suffered injuries to his body, legs and arms.
Sectarian graffiti was daubed on the house claiming to be from the UDA. A red car parked outside was also damaged in the attack.
The couple had been living there for less than five weeks.
As well breaking both Mr Sturgeon’s arms, the gang almost severed a finger and ruptured an artery during the frenzied attack. The young man also suffered various slash injuries across his upper body and legs and a gush of blood was only stemmed when a neighbour used one of his daughter’s nappies to wrap the wound.
He said he feared for his life when the men burst into his home and shouted “Highfield UDA” before launching their brutal attack.
He underwent an emergency operation on Saturday morning, during which steel plates were inserted in his arms and he received 14 stitches to leg wounds.
Originally from the Markets area of south Belfast, Mr Sturgeon said his terrified girlfriend and 11-week-old daughter were forced to watch as he was savagely beaten by the gang in the living room of his home.
The baby girl, who is being tested for a possible heart defect, was also showered in glass after the masked gang broke his living room window and smashed a mirror.
A gang member even motioned to hit her with an iron bar as they threatened the family.
Mr Sturgeon said his attackers all wore blue jeans, black jackets and boots and he suffered most of his injuries as he curled into a ball and held his hands over his head in a bid to protect himself.
“I was watching TV and she had just put the child down when about 10 men burst through the door and shouted ‘Highfield UDA’,” he said.
“They said, ‘You will never be back here again you dirty Fenian bastard’.”
Mr Sturgeon said he can remember little of the attack.
“They were calling me a ‘Fenian bastard’, that’s all I can remember,” he said. I was targeted because I am a Catholic. I never had hassle with anyone.”
The victim said he had not hesitated about moving into a loyalist area to be with his family.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “I will never feel safe in a Protestant area again.”
FACTIONS AT WAR
The attack comes amid mounting tensions within the UDA after a rival faction attempted to usurp the mainstream leadership in north Belfast.
Weapons have been removed from a UDA arms dump in County Antrim, where feuding is also taking place. Most worryingly, loyalist paramilitaries have been openly seeking to identify Catholic homes in the Rasharkin and Dunloy areas.
Local SDLP assembly member John Dallat said the PSNI was aware of “an arsenal of loyalist weapons” being kept in the Bushmills aream which is convenient to both Ballymoney and Coleraine.
“The real story is not so much that they may have been ‘stolen’ from a bunker but the fact that they exist 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
“Obviously this story has caused great anxiety among the general community but particularly among nationalists who live day and daily with fear from loyalist gangs.”
British officials have refused to say whether the UDA ceasefire is even under review.
EAST BELFAST TROUBLE
In other news, two young children escaped injury after their home came under attack during a loyalist assault in east Belfast.
The brother and sister, 2-year-old Lucas and 8-year-old Eireann O’Donnell were playing in the front room of the house on the edge of Short Strand when snooker balls smashed through the window last Saturday night, August 23rd.
The children, and their mother Claire, were “terrified” by the incident which happened at around 11.30pm on an evening of violence in the area. Petrol bombs were also thrown towards the Mountpottinger Road.
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile appealed for calm following the latest attacks which he said had a “degree of orchestration” and “grown men shouting loyalist slogans” as homes were attacked.
“This is a worrying development and I would call on all leaders in east Belfast to work to ensure that the incidents witnessed here last night are not repeated.”