Continuity IRA may have fired at civilian helicopter in belief it was PSNI aircraft

Senior officer dismisses claim twice made by dissident group about taking aim at chopper

The Continuity IRA may have tried to bring down a civilian helicopter thinking it was a police aircraft, the PSNI has said.

The Continuity IRA may have tried to bring down a civilian helicopter thinking it was a police aircraft, the PSNI has said.

 

The Continuity IRA may have tried to bring down a civilian helicopter thinking it was a police aircraft, the PSNI has said.

A senior police officer on Tuesday discounted a claim, made twice by the dissident republican group, that it had fired shots at a PSNI helicopter in Co Fermanagh last week.

The Continuity IRA, in a statement to the Irish News last week, claimed it fired nine shots from a high powered Dragunov Russian sniper rifle at a police helicopter during the alert in the Wattlebridge Road area of Newtownbutler.

The group said it had planted a hoax bomb to lure police into the area last Thursday and then fired at a police helicopter during the ensuing security operation.

When police issued a statement denying the claim, the Continuity IRA repeated its assertion that such an attack had taken place in a second statement to the Irish News. The PSNI on Tuesday suggested the group may have fired on a civilian helicopter.

“I can confirm that the Police Service helicopter was not deployed in the Wattlebridge area at any time on Thursday, 14th January,” said South Area Commander, Chief Supt Andy Freeburn on Tuesday.

However, he said a fixed wing aircraft was deployed to conduct searches on that date.

“Following extensive enquiries we have established that a private helicopter was travelling through the area on Thursday,” he said.

Unaware

“If there is any truth to the claims from dissident republicans, we believe that this civilian helicopter is the aircraft that they shot at. Fortunately the helicopter did not sustain any damage and its occupant was unaware of any shots being fired.

“Those involved have shown their absolute disregard for the lives of ordinary people. The fact that this alleged attack was intended for police makes it no less heinous. Police officers safeguard our communities every day in the face of this threat and continue to do their utmost to build a safer society.”

Chief Supt Freeburn said the Continuity IRA had “sought to disrupt our communities a number of times over the last few years with a booby trap device in Craigavon in July 2019, an explosive device on the Cavan Road in August 2019 and an explosive device on a heavy goods vehicle in Lurgan in January 2020”.

He added: “They did not care about the danger they caused to our communities then, nor do they care now. All right thinking people will appreciate the catastrophic affects that a crashed aircraft would have had on the helicopter pilot and residents living in this area. Their recklessness knows no bounds.”

Chief Supt Freeburn said in cooperation with the Garda, the PSNI was carrying out further searches in the Wattlebridge Road area this week.

“A number of roads will be closed with traffic diversions in place. We will do our utmost to facilitate local residents and minimise any disruption,” he said.

First Minister Arlene Foster, who grew up near Wattlebridge, said there had “been few incidents which have more acutely highlighted the utter stupidity and recklessness of these republican terrorists than this”.

“Regardless of the debate about whether they did or did not target a helicopter, no one in their right mind would even think about shooting down a helicopter, particularly over a populated area,” she said.

“It is time for them to back off and leave our communities alone.”