A hitman believed to have murdered at least six people since 2018 is the chief suspect in the murder of a man in a west Belfast social club on Sunday afternoon.
Two masked men walked calmly into the busy Donegal Celtic social club shortly before 2.30pm and shot car dealer Sean Fox in the head a number of times.
Eyewitnesses have said that it appeared to be a well planned "professional hit”.
The victim died almost instantly at the scene.
Following the shooting the two gunmen made off on foot along the Suffolk Road before disappearing into the Lenadoon estate.
The victim was a close friend of drug dealer Jim ‘JD’ Donegan, who was gunned down in December 2018.
He had been drinking with friends in the Suffolk Road social club where he was a regular on a Sunday.
In recent days he is thought to have been warned that his life was under threat.
His killers may have had him under surveillance for some time.
Despite knowing he was under threat he continued to meet friends for Sunday drinks in the west Belfast football club.
Originally from west Belfast, he had moved into Donegan’s Lisburn home after his death and had taken over part of his car dealing business.
Fox, known as Foxy, was part of a group of alleged gangsters known as the ‘Marbella Crew’ after pictures of the men partying in the Spanish resort appeared online following the death of Donegan.
An eyewitness at the scene told the Belfast Telegraph that the bar was busy at the time of the shooting and that while some people ran to help the victim it was clear that he had died instantly due to the catastrophic nature of his injuries.
The witness said he heard up to nine shots. There was no one else injured in the attack.
Police moved staff and customers into another room while they preserved the crime scene and took details from witnesses.
However, they are also seeking to speak to a number of people who fled the bar in terror in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey has said the community is in shock after the shooting.
“I condemn those responsible. There is no place for guns on our streets,” he said.
“Anyone with information on this shooting should immediately bring it forward to the police.”
Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister has condemned the “sickening attack” which has "left the entire city shocked, particularly as it took place in the middle of the afternoon in public”.
Ms McAllister, an Alliance Policing Board representative, added that her thoughts are with the loved ones of the victim, “who have been left grieving following this brutal act, carried out by those who don’t speak for anyone in the community”.
"Guns have no place in our society and the culprits need to be taken off our streets immediately.”
SDLP councillor Brian Heading added that the incident has “cast a dark cloud over the entire area”.
"People in this community want to be able to live their lives in peace and this shooting in broad daylight in a busy establishment must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all,” he said.
“People are rightly concerned at the presence of gunmen on our streets and I would urge anyone who knows anything about this shooting to come forward to police as soon as possible. We need these people apprehended to protect the community and ensure that nothing like this happens again.”
Mr Fox is thought to be the sixth victim of an experienced hitman who killed JD Donegan less than a mile away from Sunday’s shooting in December 2018.
Donegan (43) was shot dead sitting behind the wheel of an £80,000 Porsche as he waited to pick up his son outside school on the Glen Road.
Dissident republicans were said to be behind the killing of the west Belfast man who was a major player in the drugs trade. He was shot numerous times in the head in broad daylight, his killer making off on foot into a local housing estate.
The murder of Warren Crossan (28) in west Belfast in June 2020 was also carried out in a similar fashion. Mr Crossan was chased along Rodney Parade from its junction with St James's Road in west Belfast by two masked gunmen.
He was then shot a number of times at close range in St Katharine's Road.
Mr Crossan was the son of well-known dissident republican Tommy Crossan, who was shot dead on the Springfield Road, Belfast, in 2014.
He was previously arrested and questioned about the murder of Robbie Lawlor, a Dublin criminal, shot dead in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast in April 2020.
In December 2021, Crossan’s close friend Mark Hall was shot dead. Again the gunmen approached and left on foot.
Hall was shot up to seven times as he visited his mother’s house in the St James’ area of west Belfast.
His killers had local knowledge and again no known getaway car was used.
While Mr Fox was linked by association to criminality the same gunman is thought to have pulled the trigger in two other murders involving former dissident republicans who had fallen from favour.
Kieran Wylie, was shot dead in west Belfast in May 2020. The 57-year-old grandfather was murdered by two masked gunmen at his home in the Lenadoon area of west Belfast.
The killing, which occurred in front of the victim's two horrified daughters, was again said to be professional in its execution. He was shot in the torso before being shot in the head as he lay on the floor. The gunmen made off on foot.
Mr Wylie had been accused of trying to set up his own vigilante group and threatening former dissident associates, he was also accused of providing information that led to the jailing of a man on explosives charges.
While the hitman is known to operate with an accomplice he is also linked to solo murders, that of JD Donegan and the assassination of Danny McClean in February 2021.
McClean (54) was shot a number of times while sitting in a parked car on the Cliftonville Road in north Belfast.
In 2019, the victim had been identified in court as being a dissident republican. He was under threat from former associates and had been accused of targeting other republicans by collecting information on their movements and trying to source weapons.
He was shot dead by a lone gunman who was captured on CCTV walking calmly away from the scene.
There were fears last night of further bloodshed after a list of over 20 names was circulated online warning those listed to leave the country, alleging they were drug dealers and “no longer safe, let today be another warning”.
Appealing for information about Mr Fox’s murder, PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell said: “Both gunmen are believed to have made their escape on foot along Suffolk Road.
“The investigation is at a very early stage and I would urge to anyone with information or anyone who was in the Suffolk Road area at the time the shooting took place and seen two men running from the club or who may have captured dashcam footage to contact us on 101 quoting reference number 1120 02/10/22.”