Gun attack on Belfast police officers 'has hallmarks of dissident republicans'

A gun attack on two police officers in West Belfast bore all the hallmarks of a dissident republican operation, a senior police officer has said.

Up to eight rounds hit the passenger side of the car parked at Rossnareen Avenue in the Andersonstown area shortly before 7pm on Thursday.

The two officers escaped unhurt but were badly shaken.

Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw from the Police Service of Northern Ireland described the shooting as a mindless and reckless attempt to kill.

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme he said: "It certainly does bear the hallmarks of dissident republican violence in recent times.

"People took a premeditated decision to step out into a residential area last night and bring some serious weaponry into play and fire shots at police officers."

Mr Grimshaw declined to comment on speculation that a Kalashnikov rifle had been used in the ambush.

Police are treating it as attempted murder, he said.

"This was a mindless and reckless attempt to kill police officers who were carrying out routine duties as part of an investigation into serious crime," he said. "Thankfully it failed."

Last week a member of the Travelling community was critically injured after he was shot in the head in the same area.

It is understood the officers were ambushed as they prepared to question members of the public about recent serious crime in West Belfast in recent days.

Mr Grimshaw said a review of procedures and tactics would now be carried out but officers would not be put off carrying out their daily duties.

He added: "This will not deter these officers or their colleague in providing a much-needed and increasingly valued police service in West Belfast. 

"Those who believe that trying to kill officers will achieve anything are deluded."

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson described the attack as "futile".

He said on Twitter: "My thoughts are with the officers targeted in Belfast. A futile act which could have resulted in carnage for anyone in the vicinity."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has also added her condemnation of the "shocking" shooting while the region's Justice Minister David Ford said it was "appalling".

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said it was fortunate no one was killed.

He said: "This attack happened in the early evening in a busy area and could have killed or seriously injured anyone in the area at the time.

"Thankfully, no-one was injured, but it was a frightening experience for people in the area.

"Those responsible have nothing to offer the community, they do not speak for local people and need to end these reckless and futile actions immediately. We will not allow them to drag us back to the past."

Debbie Watters, vice chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, was also grateful no one was hurt

Anyone with information is asked to contact the PSNI on 101.

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