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Witness appeal after bus hijacked and set on fire near loyalist estate on outskirts of Belfast

Four men boarded the bus on the outskirts of Belfast and ordered passengers off.

The burnt out double decker bus in Church Road near Rathcoole
The burnt out double decker bus in Church Road near Rathcoole
Image: PA Images

Updated Nov 8th 2021, 10:37 AM

POLICE ARE APPEALING for witnesses after a bus was hijacked and set on fire at a loyalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast.

Four masked men boarded the double decker at around 7.45pm as it made a stop at Carnreagh Bend in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim and ordered passengers to get off. 

The men, who were reported to have been carrying a hammer and a bottle of petrol, then forced the driver to make the journey to Church Road, and proceeded to smash windows and set the bus alight. 

The suspects were said to have been dressed in black and believed to be aged in their 40s. 

One of the men was described as being around 5’7″ in height, while two of the others were estimated as being 6′ or taller. 

The first was extinguished by emergency services last night. 

PSNI Detective Inspector Lenaghan said that this had been a terrifying incident for both the driver and everyone who had been travelling on the bus at the time.

“This was a distressing and frightening ordeal for everyone involved, and we are thankful that no one suffered any physical injuries,” Lenaghan said.

“This reckless incident also continued to cause disruption for those who live and work in the area this morning, and we would ask drivers to avoid it as we continue to carry out our investigations,” Lenaghan added.

“We are appealing to anyone with any information about what happened to contact us, and are asking anyone was in the area and saw what happened, or may have dash cam footage, to call our detectives on 101, quoting reference number 1645 of 07/11/21.”

This incident comes after another bus was hijacked and burned in a loyalist area of Newtownards, Co Down, last Monday in an apparent protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Disorder also broke out at a community interface in west Belfast twice last week.

The violence involving youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road saw police being attacked with missiles and fireworks on Wednesday and Friday night.

Wednesday’s disorder followed a protest against the protocol.

Condemning last night’s hijacking, Stormont Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the driver and passengers were safe after a “terrifying experience”.

“It is disgraceful and disgusting that our public transport workers have been targeted for attack again, this time by masked men who ordered the driver and passengers off a bus this evening and then set fire to it. This is the fourth attack this year,” she said.

“Translink buses are public assets. Without them people can’t get to and from work, or school, or hospital appointments. Our bus drivers are working class people who deserve to be safe in their jobs. People using public transport also deserve to feel safe and be able to go about their business without fear.

“The criminals behind these reckless and cowardly attacks have done nothing more than harm their local community, depriving them of a critical public service. It is another extreme act of self harm consistently rejected by the people of Northern Ireland.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson branded the attack “senseless”.

“Such criminal behaviour could lead to death or serious injury,” he tweeted.

“This only harms local people and local communities. It serves no cause whatsoever. The ringleaders should step back. Change is brought about by politics not by burning buses.”

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Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said: “The hijacking and burning of a bus and threats to a driver in Rathcoole is dangerous, reckless and despicable.

“There is absolutely no place in our society for this criminality and violence.

“We need to see clear condemnation from unionist leaders tonight of this violence and further attempts to stir up tensions.

“Words and actions are very important, and I would urge unionist leaders to end the provocative language and dishonesty around the protocol.

“People want calm and responsible leadership to reduce tensions and ensure there is no further escalation of violence on our streets.”

A PSNI spokesman said: “Police received a report of a hijacking incident in the Church Road area of Newtownabbey at around 7.45pm on Sunday evening.

“It was reported that four men got onto the bus and ordered passengers off before the bus was then set alight.

“Church Road is currently closed and diversions are in place and police would ask members of the public to avoid the area.”

With reporting by Press Association

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