Northern Ireland

Belfast shooting 'attempt to kill police officers'

Bullet holes in car Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Two police officers escaped injury after shots were fired at their car

Police say they are treating a gun attack on officers in west Belfast, in which up to eight shots were fired, as attempted murder.

A number of shots struck the passenger side of a police car parked at Rossnareen Avenue, at about 18:50 GMT on Thursday.

Two officers who were in the car were not injured but were said to have been badly shaken.

Police described it as a "mindless, reckless attempt to kill officers".

'Serious weaponry'

Ch Supt Nigel Grimshaw said the officers were "very fortunate and it was only by the grace of God and their professionalism that we are not looking at fatalities".

He told the BBC the attack "certainly does bear the hallmarks of dissident republican violence in recent times".

"People took a premeditated decision to step out into a residential area last night and bring some serious weaponry into play and fire shots at police officers," he said.

Police are investigating whether a car found burning in the Beechmount area was connected to the attack.

Image caption Up to eight shots were fired at a police car parked at Rossnareen Avenue

Chairman of the Police Federation Mark Lindsay said, "They brought an automatic weapon onto the streets of a residential area to try to kill police officers.

"For what cause? For nothing. They put everybody at risk."

Mr Lindsay said the PSNI needed more resources to deal with the threat posed by terrorism.

"We've consistently said we need more officers on the ground, more investment in the numbers and a commitment from government to ensure there are enough officers to do the job," he said.

"At the moment we're very short of what we need."

The officers were carrying out duties in relation to recent serious crime in the area.

A week ago a man was critically injured after being shot in the head in the same street.

Ch Supt Grimshaw said the police would review what happened on Thursday night to see what lessons they could learn.

"Paramount to me is the safety of my officers, and we review our procedures, tactics and patrolling patterns all the time, and we're always learning," he said.

"I'm thankful that the protection offered by the patrol vehicles and the equipment we provide has given some measure of safety, but we will always keep that under review and work with officers to make sure we do everything to keep them safe."

'Futile act'

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said the shooting was "a futile act which could have resulted in carnage for anyone in the vicinity".

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said Thursday's attack was "shocking".

"The people behind this despicable crime will rightly attract condemnation from right across the community," she said.

Justice Minister David Ford described it as appalling.

"This was clearly an attempt to kill police officers serving the community," he said.

"Those responsible for this cowardly act have also shown absolutely no regard for local residents. I am very thankful that no-one was injured."

Image caption Police described it as a "mindless, reckless attempt to kill officers"

Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey also condemned the attack.

"This attack happened in the early evening in a busy area and could have killed or seriously injured anyone in the area at the time," he said.

"Thankfully no-one was injured, but it was a frightening experience for people in the area."

Debbie Watters, the vice-chairwoman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said: "I'm thankful that the officers in the police car escaped without injury, but this was certainly not the intent of those responsible."

The SDLP's Tim Attwood said: "There's no place in Belfast, or Northern Ireland, for people to come out in the dead of night to target police officers."

Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey said it was "a cowardly attack on officers serving the community".