A GARDA detective was targeted by an armed gang who burst into his home and beat up his wife while their children slept upstairs.
A major investigation is now under way after two masked men armed with knives forced their way into the officer's house in Charlestown, Co Mayo, on Friday night, demanded to know where he was and attacked his wife – who was alone.
The Irish Independent understands the detective escaped being kidnapped or seriously injured because he was at work. The horrifying incident took place at 11.15pm while the detective was on duty 45km away in Boyle, Co Roscommon.
Gardai are trying to identify a motive for the attack – which they have described as "extremely sinister" – in a bid to identify the gang involved. They also want to know what the gang intended doing if the officer had been at home.
The couple's two youngest children – aged three and one – were asleep upstairs when the raiders burst through the front door. They told the officer's wife they were looking for her husband and demanded to know if he was in the house.
When she told them he was at work they refused to believe her and called out his name.
The young mother was punched and beaten but did not suffer serious injury.
The two raiders then searched the rest of the house, including the bedrooms where the children were asleep.
Fortunately the couple's third child, an eight-year-old, was on a sleepover in a friend's house otherwise she would have witnessed the incident.
The attackers then tied the officer's wife to a child safety gate on the stairs and left.
Nothing was taken during the raid. She managed to free herself some time later and called her husband who raised the alarm and rushed home.
The young mother suffered bruises to her face and body during the dreadful ordeal and the couple are understood to be severely traumatised.
The attack is being investigated from an incident room at Swinford garda station.
A garda source told the Irish Independent last night: "This is a very sinister development and such an incident has not been heard of before. The raiders knew exactly who they were looking for and seemed determined to find him.
"The big question at this stage is what they planned to do with him? They either intended kidnapping the man or causing him serious harm or even worse. He was fortunate that he was not in the house at the time."
Gardai are examining the files of recent criminal investigations the officer worked on in a bid to uncover clues to the gang's identity.
The officer concerned has been in the force for about 10 years.
He has been very active in serious crime investigations in the region, particularly the activities of a dangerous gang of young thugs who are based in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.
The gang, which includes a number of brothers, is involved in the systematic theft of machinery and cars and also the drug trade.
Security sources say that they are typical of the new breed of violent crime gangs that are popping up all over the country.
In recent months there has been a disturbing upsurge in the number of incidents where criminals threatened gardai and attacked their vehicles following robberies.
"The people who carried out this appalling attack had no difficulty beating up a defenceless mother in her home as she minded her children. . . it really is a new low and an indication of what we are up against," a senior garda said.
Any member of the public with information is asked to contact Swinford garda station on 094 9252990, the garda confidential line 1-800-666-111 or any garda station.