Politics

NI police believe UVF behind hijacking and hoax bomb


The police believe loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for a hijacking and hoax bomb alert which disrupted a speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs at a peace and reconciliation event in Belfast on Friday.

Speaking at a press conference in Belfast on Friday night, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said a “primary line of investigation” was that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was behind the attack.

He condemned their “disgraceful actions” and said the victim of the hijacking believed he was “driving a van containing a live bomb and that his family were being threatened”.

Simon Coveney and his audience were evacuated from the Houben Centre in north Belfast after the hijacked vehicle containing a suspect device was found in the car park on Friday morning.

Mr Coveney later thanked the PSNI and said he was “saddened and frustrated that someone has been attacked and victimised in this way and my thoughts are with him and his family”.

Critical

Some loyalists have been critical of Irish Ministers, including Mr Coveney and the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, over what they say has been their role in the Northern Ireland protocol, which they oppose.

A senior source told The Irish Times that loyalists felt angry, insulted and undermined and held Mr Coveney responsible, and they could not rule out the possibility of more attacks.

Assistant Chief McEwan said the van had been hijacked in Sydney Street West, off the Shankill Road, between 9am and 10am on Friday.

“The van driver was threatened by two gunmen and forced to drive his white Vauxhall van a short distance to another street and a device was then placed in the van.”

He was forced to drive it to Holy Cross church, beside the Houben Centre.

Sarah McKinley of Downtown/Cool FM radio, who was among those evacuated, said she had seen the victim of the hijacking who was a “workman, clutching a toolbag standing outside, he was completely shellshocked”.

“He said he had been hijacked and told to drive to the centre.”

Assistant Chief McEwan said the hoax bomb was “clearly designed to cause maximum disruption to the local community” and as well as substantial traffic disruption, more than 25 homes were evacuated, and schools and residents in a nursing home were also affected.

The attack was condemned across the political divide in the North on Friday.

Mr Coveney had been delivering a speech on the theme “building common ground” at an event organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation.



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