'Children could have been killed': Dissident republicans thought to be behind PSNI officer shooting

A 36-year-old man has now been arrested in connection with the attack.

Updated at 22.30pm

POLICE IN NORTHERN Ireland have arrested a 36-year-old man in connection with the shooting of a PSNI officer last night in Belfast.

The officer, who is recovering in hospital, underwent surgery overnight and is scheduled to have several more operations on wounds to his right arm, Chief Constable of the PSNI George Hamilton said this afternoon.

Hamilton, who visited the officer in hospital, said he had had a “difficult overnight” and that he appeared to have sustained two to three gunshot wounds.

The officer had been on duty for around three to four hours when he called into a petrol station on the Crumlin Road in the north-west of the city at about 7.30pm.

Hamilton said he was exiting the station when “a series of gunshots were sprayed” at him. A number of other people were at the station when the attack occurred, Hamilton said.

Belfast shooting PSNI tape around a car on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast last night PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

He described it as ”a very mad, reckless act that put the entire community at risk”.

Hamilton branded the attack “attempted murder”.

Speaking at a press conference at Tennent Street police station at lunchtime today, he said: “It’s very fortunate that we’re not standing here today making an appeal around a murder investigation, albeit it’s clearly the attempted murder of police officers and others.

“I’ve been to visit the officer who was wounded in the attack last night. The officer appears to have been struck three times on the right arm, causing fairly significant damage. He was in theatre for over three hours and will have further surgery in the days ahead.

“He is in good spirits. I never cease to be amazed by the bravery and professionalism of police officers like him that I come across on a daily basis.”

Crumlin Rd bullet mark on car 1 Bullet hole in car. PSNI PSNI

A 36 year old man arrested in connection with the incident remains in custody at this stage, assisting police with their enquiries.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes said the investigation is progressing well and he urged anyone with information to come forward.

He said: “We would like to trace the movements of a dark red Audi A4 Estate, registration number KNZ 2862. It’s around 15 years old – an old-style model. We believe it was used by those involved to leave the scene following the shooting.

“We have recovered bullets from a number of locations on the forecourt and in several cars. Any one of these could quite easily killed or seriously injured local people, including the children who were at the station.”

Detectives are continuing to appeal for information in relation to the incident. They are particularly keen to speak to anyone who noticed an Audi-type vehicle opposite the filling station at around 7.30pm last night (Sunday 22 January), or anyone who has any other information that could help the investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives on 101. Alternatively, information can be given to the Crimestoppers charity anonymously by telephoning 0800 555 111.

It’s thought dissident republicans were behind the attack, the Chief Constable said. The senior officer heading up the investigation will give more details on the status of their probe later this afternoon.

Last night’s attack was the first on an on-duty officer in eight years and comes as the Northern Ireland executive continues to reel from the resignation of Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister and the calling of a snap election for 2 March.

In recent days, the PSNI confirmed that they were following “an active line of inquiry around the involvement of violent dissident republicans”. This was in response to four paramilitary-style shootings in west Belfast over the past three weeks.

The PSNI said that there would be increased patrols in the area and had asked members of the community to work with police “to put these people out of business”.

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy and Garreth MacNamee

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