Gun attack follows wave of alerts

There was a burst of activity by republican armed groups across the North at the weekend. The most serious incident saw a number of shots fired at the PSNI on Saturday during a bomb alert near the rail line outside Newry.

No further details were released to the media about the gun attack, in which a PSNI mobile patrol escaped injury at around 9.15pm on Saturday.

It was described as “a cowardly attempt to kill police officers” by local PSNI chief Alisdair Robinson.

The PSNI was lured to the area by a suspicious device placed close to the track between Killeen and Meigh. The attack is understood to have been carried out by a breakaway IRA group, although no claim of responsibility has been made.

More than a dozen alerts, all of which turned out to be hoaxes, caused major disruption in Belfast, Derry and Ballymena on Friday. The wave of dissident activity came as a hunger fast protest was mounted at Maghaberry jail by prominent republican Gary Donnelly. It also followed comments last week by PSNI chief Hugh Orde that the North had reached “an acceptable level of violence”.

In Derry, five masked men hijacked a milk float in the Rosemount area in the early morning. After placing an object on the van, they ordered the driver to drive it to Strand Road PSNI station.

A short time later, four masked and armed men abandoned a stolen van beside Bishop Street courthouse, forcing all activity to be transferred elsewhere.

There was also an alert at Craigavon Bridge following a telephoned bomb warning.

Local MP, the SDLP’s Mark Durkan, said those behind the alerts were “resented and rejected by the people of this city”.

Sinn Fein assembly member. Martina Anderson described those responsible as a “rag-tag of individuals”.

“Can these people explain to the citizens of Derry just what they hope to achieve by these activities,” she said.

In west Belfast, two masked men boarded a bus and left a suspicious object on board. British Army bomb experts described the incident as a hoax along with another alert on the Malone Road.

There were also alerts in at least six other locations across Belfast, including the M2 motorway.

In Ballymena, a shopping centre on Wellington Street was at the centre of another alert on Friday.

On Saturday, the British Army carried out a controlled explosion in Magherafelt after a pipe bomb was found in a car park near a PSNI station in the town.

Magherafelt Sinn Fein councillor Sean McPeake said: “The placing of the viable pipe-bomb device in a residential area near the town’s PSNI barracks serves no useful purpose other than endanger lives and to grossly inconvenience the residential and retail life of much of the town.”

Also on Saturday night, two masked youths hijacked a van on the rail crossing near Lake Street in Lurgan.

The hijackers drove the van a short distance before abandoning it.

* A loyalist flute band staged a provocative ‘parade’ in Stoneyford village last week.

The Pride of the Village flute band sparked controversy earlier this month after it announced plans to parade through the mixed County Antrim village on St Patrick’s night.

The Parades Commission imposed strong restrictions on the march. However, it has emerged that members of the flute band staged the ‘parade’ in a field adjacent to two housing estates from where Catholics have fled two days ahead of schedule. The parade on Monday last week was heard two miles a way.

The PSNI said they found a “number of persons congregated in a field” -- but it claimed no action could be taken as no illegal act had been committed.

SDLP councillor Brian Heading accused band organisers of dellberetely “stoking up” tensions in the community and “sticking two fingers up at the Parades Commission and the PSNI”.

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