The ‘New IRA’ has claimed responsibility for the ambush of a PSNI patrol in North Belfast on Sunday in which a member of the force was struck twice. The attack, which took place on the Crumlin Road close to a north Belfast interface left the victim with injuries to his arm.
At least six shots were fired from an assault rifle at a filling station near the PSNI’s Tennent Street base. The ambush was mounted from a derelict site opposite and it is believed an AK47 was used.
It is the first time a member of the PSNI has suffered conflict-related gunshot injuries in some eight years. In a statement to local news organisations, the breakaway IRA group described the shooting as a “targeted” ambush which had been “planned for several months” while movements of PSNI at the base were monitored.
The group said the attack was a “continuation of activity” and was unconnected to the recent collapse of political institutions at Stormont. They also denied claims in the media that the area was “sprayed” by gunfire, and insisted that the shots had been concentrated on their target.
The same organisation has carried out similar attacks using automatic weapons in the past. In 2013 shots were fired at a convoy of PSNI armoured vehicles as they drove past nearby Ardoyne. In November 2015 a gunman used an AK47 to fire upon a PSNI vehicle in the Rosnareen area of west Belfast.
The latest attack was condemned by politicians including former SDLP North Belfast Assembly member Nichola Mallon, who said those responsible were “criminals”.
“This community has rejected the men of violence before and it will do so again,” she said. Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly said those responsible “have absolutely nothing to offer society”.
The attack took place amid heightened tensions over the harassment of republicans by the PSNI and the deployment of British soldiers in west Belfast.
A protest took place less than 24 hours later at a PSNI event at Belfast City Hall. The event had been advertised as a public meeting, although the protestors were denied entrance.
Speaking outside, Fionnuala Perry, National Vice-Chairperson of Saoradh, said the demonstration took place in opposition to “MI5-directed British policing” in Ireland and the ongoing harassment of republican activists.
“Saoradh shall continue to oppose British policing in Ireland, regardless of the threats, intimidation and attempts to demonise and criminalise our activists,” she said. “We shall do so safe in the knowledge that we do so with a solid Republican base that refuses to bend the knee.
“In the words of Bobby Sands, ‘They will not criminalise us, rob us of our true identity, steal our individualism, depoliticise us, churn us out as systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots. We refuse to lie here in dishonour! We are not criminals, but Irishmen!’”
Prominent local republican Matt Johnston, who was arrested on Sunday evening following the gun attack, accused the PSNI on Tuesday night of “cynical policing” and said he was considering legal options. He was released unconditionally on Tuesday night.
In a statement, Madden and Finucane accused the PSNI of detaining Mr Johnson “for nearly 48 hours without a shred of evidence being put to him”.