Northern Ireland

Police say gun attack in north Belfast could have killed

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Media captionAssistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the shots were fired from "military grade weapons"

A senior police officer has said they are very fortunate not to be dealing with police fatalities following a gun attack on three PSNI vehicles in Ardoyne in north Belfast.

It happened about 19:10 GMT on Thursday as the vehicles travelled along Crumlin Road, near Brompton Park.

The security operation led to some homes being evacuated and streets being cordoned off.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the vehicles were hit 10 times.

Two of the police vehicles were towing digital warning signs behind them when the convoy came under fire from the Herbert Street area.

"Two of the police vehicles and one of the signs was hit by gunfire," ACC Kerr said.

Image caption Police sealed off a number of streets in the area following the gun attack

"We think there was at least ten strikes on those three vehicles at this stage although that number could change when the vehicles are examined in more detail.

"We're very fortunate that we're not dealing with police fatalities.

"They fired what we believe to be military grade weapons, Kalashnikov-type weapons, in a highly built-up area.

"We've recovered one weapon so far, there are further searches which will ongoing today and which may lead to others."

ACC Kerr said the attack highlighted that dissident groups had "absolute contempt" for their own communities and "complete disregard" for public safety.

It is understood those behind the attack built a platform on Herbert Street, from where the shots were fired.

Homes were evacuated in Herbert Street, Butler Walk, Butler Place and Elmfield Street on Thursday evening.

Image caption What appears to have been a firing platform was found at the end of Herbert Street

About 20 people, children, elderly people and people with disabilities, spent the night in Ardoyne community centre - Belfast City Council provided camp beds and blankets.

Holy Cross Boys Primary School in Brookfield Street was closed on Friday as police carried out a follow-up operation.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has blamed dissident republicans for carrying out the attack.

Mr Dodds said it was a "clear attempt to murder police officers" who were travelling through the area.

"Thankfully no-one was injured in this attack but it is vital that those responsible are identified and brought to justice," the DUP MP said.

"This would obviously appear to be the work of dissident republicans and I would hope that the community in Ardoyne will stand against those responsible and with the police as they carry out their investigations," he added.

'Residential area'

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance party also condemned those responsible for the shooting.

SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon said: "Those behind this attack were intent on the murder of police officers and had no regard whatsoever for anyone who could have been caught in crossfire simply walking past.

Image caption Belfast City Council provided camp beds for residents who had to leave their homes

"This is a built-up residential area, a stone's throw away from busy shops at the Crumlin Road.

"it is only through luck rather than design that we aren't now dealing with a greater tragedy." she added.

Alliance councillor John Blair said: "There is absolutely no place in our society for this type of violence. The lives of police officers and residents in the area were put at risk."

He added: "The majority of the public are opposed to the actions of those behind this shooting. People do not want to return to the dark days of the Troubles."

Officers said the investigation was at an early stage and they have asked for witnesses to contact them.

Ch Supt Clarke said: "Police are treating this attack as the attempted murder of officers as they were providing a service to the community of north Belfast.

"It is to be utterly condemned by all right-minded members of society and I urge anyone with any information to contact police immediately."