A series of racist attacks in Northern Ireland on Monday night were an orchestrated attempt to spread fear, police said.
Homes and cars were damaged and graffiti daubed on walls in east Belfast in a spate of linked hate crimes targeting Romanians and Slovaks.
Investigators said it was too early to say which group was responsible for the trouble – which included six attacks – but have not ruled out loyalist paramilitary involvement.
Superintendent Mark McEwan said on Tuesday: “These incidents which took place last night were designed to intimidate families within those homes.”
A large rise in racist incidents has been recorded across Belfast since a PSNI operation targeting perpetrators began in May.
A total of 21 searches have been conducted, 20 people arrested and five charged, police said.
On Monday night the windows of two houses in Bloomfield Avenue and Chobham Street off the Upper Newtownards Road were smashed. Paint was thrown over the second property.
Two cars were damaged in Rosebery Street and Ravenscroft Street.
Racist graffiti appeared on gable walls near Chobham Street and at a junction of Elmdale Street and Bately Street.
Mr McEwan said: “These included attacks on people’s homes, attacks on people’s cars, attacks on homes and many of them family homes with young children staying in them, so horrendous in nature and clearly racially motivated – clearly designed to intimidate and scare people.
“There is a certain level of orchestration to this group of people, some of them masked, who carried out these attacks, but at this point we are unable to say whether any particular group is involved.”
A group of men was seen running off towards the Ravenscroft area shortly after the graffiti appeared.
The vehicle attacked in Rosebery Street was covered in paint and all its windows shattered.
Mr McEwan said all attacks took place some time before 10.50pm on Monday.
Officers are investigating a link between the incidents and are treating them as hate crimes.
A range of ethnic minorities have been targeted in recent times, including Poles and those of African descent.
Mr McEwan said police were pursuing a number of lines of inquiry and examining items for forensics.
He said: “There is a robust response to race hate attacks on the part of the police service; we take this very seriously.
“However, there is not a policing solution to this problem. This is a societal problem. We need to work with our partner agencies to try and build cohesive communities, to enable those communities to absorb and to live with people from other ethnic backgrounds.”
When it comes to this particular case, he said items had been seized for forensic tests, but would not divulge what they are.
On the numbers of those involved, he said: “It’s not possible for me at this moment to quantify that.”