Man shot dead at N.Ireland hotspot: police

28th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Masked gunmen shot dead a man Friday on the Shankill Road, a staunchly Protestant area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, police said, but added that they did not believe the killing was sectarian.

The 44-year-old victim was crossing the street, a notorious hotspot during the British province's three decades of violence between Protestants and Catholics, when he was felled by a burst of gunfire, a police source told AFP.

"The victim was approached by at least two masked gunmen and shot a number of times at close range. He was taken to hospital but died a short time later," said detective Justyn Galloway of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The man was named locally as Bobby Moffat, understood to be a member of the Red Hand Commando (RHC) militant group.

"This was a cold-blooded, ruthless killing carried out on a 44 year old man in the community where he lived," said the PSNI detective.

"It is a chilling reminder of a violent past that everyone in the community hoped we had left behind," he added, while stressing: "At this stage, police do not believe the murder was sectarian."

The killing comes after a resurgence in violence in Northern Ireland over the last 18 months, including the murders of two British soldiers in March 2009.

Most recently, a viable car bomb device was left outside a polling station in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city on May 6, disrupting voting in British general elections.

Friday's shooting occurred near a loyalists mural in the middle of the Shankill Road, which runs from Belfast city centre towards the northwest of the capital.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds condemned the killing, saying: "Everyone will have been shocked and horrified by this incident where someone has been murdered in broad daylight.

"No-one has the right to take the life of another human being and we all want to ensure that Northern Ireland continues to move away from times when reports such as this were all too common."

A local resident who saw the shooting said: "I saw the bloke lying there. I think he was shot in the head or the face."

"I thought it was a car backfiring. I heard about four shots and saw the gunmen standing in the middle of the road wearing balaclavas and orange tops," he added.

In Northern Ireland, the Orange Order is a Protestant organisation known for staging parades. Media reports suggested the killing could have been carried out by renegade elements within the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Ulster Unionist Party member Bill Manwaring, who was on the scene shortly after the shooting, said the dead man suffered severe injuries to his face and hand.

"The injuries were horrific and young children were on the street when this happened," he said.

And he added: "We had 40 years of this area suffering from this kind of activity and there is no reason for this. It is unacceptable."

Earlier this week a paramilitary watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), warned that dissident republican groups remain "highly active and dangerous" even if they command little support.

The IMC said mainstream organisations continue to follow the peaceful path set out by the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, which largely ended the three decades of so-called Troubles.

More than 3,500 people died in civil strife between Catholics who wanted the province to become part of the Republic of Ireland and Protestants who wanted to stay within the United Kingdom.

© 2010 AFP

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