PSNI officers were subjected to a hail of bullets as they approached a volatile interface flashpoint on Thursday night.
In an attack which is being treated as attempted murder, a trio of vehicles came under fire as they drove along the Crumlin Road towards the Twaddell Avenue loyalist protest camp in Belfast.
It has not been officially established exactly where the gunfire came from, but it is believed to have been from the republican Ardoyne neighbourhood. The shots were fired at around 7pm, a short time before the regular evening parade was due to take place at the camp.
One man on the scene described a crackle of gunfire, followed by the assembled protestors fleeing for safety.
At 8.30pm the police issued a statement which confirmed: “Three police vehicles in north Belfast are believed to have been struck by a number of gunshot rounds as they travelled along the Crumlin Road near Brompton Park...There are no reports of any injuries at this time.”
District Commander, Chief Superintendent George Clarke said: “Police are treating this attack as attempted murder of officers as they were providing a service to the community of north Belfast.”
Brian Kingston, DUP councillor for the Shankill area, spoke to several of those who were in the area during the attack and it was indicated to him that the shots came from the direction of Kerrera Street.
It was also claimed that the PSNI convoy targeted had included at least one non-armoured vehicle.
Accounts varied on the number of shots fired.
But a member of the UDA-connected west Belfast UPRG, also a former soldier, told the News Letter he had heard a burst which he recognised as automatic rifle fire – with two shots appearing to whizz particularly loudly overhead – before around 20 protestors on the scene ran for cover.
The DUP’s Nigel Dodds said: “This would obviously appear to be the work of dissident republicans and I would hope that the community in Ardoyne will stand against those responsible and with the police as they carry out their investigations.”
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said that “those behind this attack are serving their own narrow agenda and are in no way representative of this community”, while SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon said it was only “through luck rather than design” that no one was hurt.