Gardai believe that the target of a reckless criminal who fired two shots at unarmed gardai yesterday morning is a member of one of the country's most prolific burglary gangs.
Two uniformed officers were responding to reports of suspicious activity when they were threatened with a handgun at point-blank range - and shot at minutes later - during a chase with a crazed criminal who sources said last night "had murder on his mind".
His target is living at an address near Gorey, Co Wexford, close to where a thug was spotted hiding in a ditch near his home by a concerned member of the public.
The garda patrol car that reacted to the situation was later fired upon twice by the thug, who detectives suspect was in the area to murder a key member of a Tallaght-led organised crime mob.
"On arrival the two gardai encountered a male who pointed a handgun in their direction and threatened them," a garda spokeswoman said.
No arrests had yet been made last night as a major armed garda manhunt continued for two suspects, including the lone gunman who fired at the two male gardai before leading the brave officers on a high-speed chase.
A motive for the suspected botched gang hit had not yet been established last night "but it is rooted in serious criminality" and the two gardai who were shot at were being comforted by friends and family.
The shocking incident happened in broad daylight yesterday at 8.30am and sources revealed last night that the suspected target has previously been warned of an active threat against his life.
Gardai on patrol came across the suspect, who detectives believe was acting as a lone hitman.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was at an event in Co Wexford yesterday, described the events in north Wexford as a matter of "serious concern".
"I only have some very basic information on that - I heard about the events in Gorey, but I don't want to comment on them until I know what the full facts are," Mr Varadkar said.
"[But] I think everyone in the country is worried about the spate of violence and violent crime that we have witnessed in the last couple of weeks in different parts of the country."
In an unusual development, the suspected hitman was on his own in the Gorey Hill area when he was confronted by brave gardai, who then pursued him for around 6km before he was met by a waiting accomplice.
"This car was followed by a uniform patrol car and failed to stop for gardai along the Gorey to Carnew Road R725 driving erratically and dangerously," a garda spokeswoman said.
"On two occasions the driver of the car slowed down the BMW and discharged shots from a handgun at pursuing unarmed uniform gardai.
"This male is described as 6ft, slim build, black jacket, scarf over face and wearing a hat."
The unarmed gardai were forced to back-off and by the time that armed back-up arrived, the BMW which had been used by the shooter, was discovered burnt out.
"This car was subsequently discovered burnt out in the townland of Banntown, Co Wexford. Gardai are appealing for any information on the activities and location of this blue BMW 318 06W1012 overnight and in recent days," the garda spokeswoman said.
Superintendent Gerry McGrath said: "The illegal discharge of a firearm is a reckless act at any time, but the discharge of a firearm at unarmed uniformed members of An Garda Siochana, is an outrageous act."