The PSNI believes violent dissident republicans are behind two Belfast shootings in 24 hours in Belfast and are firing weapons “indiscriminately” in the area.
A 16-year-old boy is the latest victim of a paramilitary-style attack after he was shot in the leg in the Falls Road area, west of the city, on Thursday night.
Just 24 hours earlier, another young man was shot in the same vicinity. Both are in a stable condition in hospital.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said it was too early to say if the shootings were linked. However, he revealed that an active line of inquiry “is around the involvement of violent dissident republicans”.
Mr Noble said Thursday night’s shooting was “child abuse”.
PSNI officers have voiced concern over a recent spate of paramilitary-style shootings, particularly in West Belfast. Last year the number of paramilitary-style shootings in west Belfast doubled compared to the previous year.
Mr Noble insisted that the PSNI is the only police service in West Belfast. “There is never any justification for this violent, abusive behaviour,” said Mr Noble.
Policing in West Belfast has seen real progress over the last five years in relation to domestic burglary and vehicle crime in particular, he added.
On Good Morning Ulster, a presenter put it to Mr Noble that a gunman had “fired indiscriminately into a crowd” on the Falls Road and that the latest casualty was hit in both legs as a result. Mr Noble responded that “these are random shootings”.
He replied that the gunmen “claim to be some vigilante police force for west Belfast, because your observations are right - they are random, irrespective of who they believe they are targeting”.
He added: “They are firing indiscriminately, on occasions we have seen people dying as a result of these so called punishment-style attacks. So they are hugely dangerous incidents and we have seen both of these in recent nights involving crowds of young people, so in my view they are predators.”
The presenter said that gunmen had opened fire on a crowd on the Falls Road that was watching cars racing.
Mr Noble said the casualty was not involved in wrongdoing and that the gunman was acting acting as judge, jury and executioner - “but the community don’t want it”.