Newtownbutler: Continuity IRA 'could have fired at private helicopter'

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image captionThe security alert on the Wattlebridge Road began on Thursday

Police have said the Continuity IRA may have opened fire on a civilian helicopter during a security alert, rather than a police helicopter.

A search operation is ongoing near Newtownbutler in County Fermanagh after a claim by the dissident group that a device had been left in the area.

The group later claimed to have fired shots at a police helicopter.

The PSNI has confirmed that no police helicopter was deployed, only a fixed-wing aircraft.

Police have subsequently established a civilian helicopter was in the area at the time.

"If there is any truth to the claims from dissident republicans, we believe that this civilian helicopter is the aircraft that they shot at," said south area commander Ch Supt Andy Freeburn.

"Fortunately the helicopter did not sustain any damage and its occupant was unaware of any shots being fired."

First Minister and DUP MLA for the area, Arlene Foster, said the incident had happened a short distance from where she grew up.

"Regardless of the debate about whether they did or did not target a helicopter, no-one in their right mind would even think about shooting down a helicopter, particularly over a populated area," she said.

"Families quietly going about their business and then a helicopter lands on their house, shot down for what reason?"

Mrs Foster condemned the incident and urged anyone with information to contact the police, and said it "highlighted the utter stupidity and recklessness of these republican terrorists".

'Senseless attacks'

The security alert on the Wattlebridge Road began last Wednesday.

Ch Supt Andy Freeburn said those involved had shown "their absolute disregard for the lives of ordinary people".

"The fact that this alleged attack was intended for police, makes it no less heinous," he said.

"Police officers safeguard our communities every day in the face of this threat and continue to do their utmost to build a safer society.

"We can all show our contempt for such senseless attacks by standing together and working in partnership to find those responsible."

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image captionThe Wattlebridge Road and Cavan Road have been closed

He said the utmost was being done to facilitate residents and minimise any disruption.

The PSNI is working with An Garda Síochána (Irish police) to ensure the area is safe, and follow up searches for evidence are currently under way.

The Wattlebridge Road and Cavan Road have been closed.

Diversions are now in place and motorists are asked to use an alternative route.

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