Friday 22 September 2017

Republicans blamed for shooting of press photographer in riots

Luke Byrne and Michael McHugh

Dissident republicans are being blamed for firing live rounds that injured a press photographer in the leg in the most serious rioting in Northern Ireland for years.

Two other men suffered bullet wounds during consecutive nights of violence in which Catholic homes were targeted in east Belfast.

Police said the loyalist paramilitary UVF had orchestrated the rioting in the Short Strand area.

PSNI detectives believe dissident republicans were responsible after Press Association photographer Niall Carson suffered a gunshot wound to his right leg.

Eyewitnesses described a person peering over a bush and aiming a pistol in the direction of a number of journalists before up to six shots were fired. However, PSNI officers believe that Mr Carson was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A spokesman said there was "no indication" that the press was targeted in the attack.

Mr Carson was last night said to be "comfortable" at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast following an operation on his leg.

The photographer described on Facebook what had happened shortly after the incident.

"Just to let everyone know I've been shot in the thigh, while covering riots. The bullet came out the other side and I'll be in surgery in the morning. I'm fine and the emergency services have been really wonderful, I take my hat off to them," he said.

The award-winning photographer described the situation in Belfast as "mayhem" on the night.

"I thought I had been shot with a plastic bullet, then came the feeling of cold blood running down leg. However, there was no pain until I got to the hospital," he said.

"Thanks everyone for their best wishes. I'm very humbled," he added.

Fellow photographer Peter Muhly said that he saw a pistol being aimed over a wall and a person taking aim before firing. "I wasn't sure if it was a real gun at first," he said.

He cried out to run and "four or five" shots were discharged.

Mr Carson repeated "I've been shot, I've been shot" and his trousers were stained with blood, he added.

The photographer made it to police vans nearby and his wound was bandaged before he was taken to hospital.

Trouble first broke out on Monday night when missiles were hurled between nationalists and unionists on the nearby Lower Newtownards Road, the police intervened and became targets. Two men were taken to the Ulster Hospital with gunshot wounds.

On Tuesday night, trouble began shortly before 9pm after large crowds gathered at the same East Belfast interface.

A barrage of petrol bombs, missiles and fireworks were thrown at security force lines with two men suffering burn injuries and officers firing dozens of plastic bullets.

A woman aged 20 has been arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon and assaulting police.

Masked youths used sledgehammers to try and smash through police vehicles and jumped on to bonnets in an attempt to rip off the protective metal guards.

Masonry, petrol and paint bombs and other missiles were hurled at officers and water cannons were brought in.

Ricocheted

It is understood that the bullet ricocheted off the ground and passed straight through his leg, just above the knee.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said the violence was "a bad thing for the community".

"We need to bring an end to this needless violence, violence which has put lives at risk."

Dissidents have been responsible for a string of attacks on the security forces. In April they planted an under-car explosive device which killed Constable Ronan Kerr (25) outside his home in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

David McKittrick

Irish Independent

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