A garda who was assaulted and doused in petrol in Cavan on Monday morning likely came across the scene of criminal activity during his patrol, investigators believe.
He was found in a highly disorientated state after the attack and has been able to provide investigators with only limited information on his assailants so far.
The young officer remains in hospital where he is being treated for serious but non-life threatening injuries.
The "working theory" is the Garda, who is from Roscommon, came across criminal activity as he was driving from Cavan Town to Blacklion in the early hours of Monday morning, a garda source said.
Sources said there is nothing to indicate the officer was abducted during the attack as some reports have suggested.
The Garda, who is aged in his 30s, started work at 7pm and had been driving back from District Headquarters in Cavan Town to his home station in Blacklion. The incident took place at about 2am in the Loughan area.
Gardaí at Blacklion were alerted to the incident by the injured garda who was disorientated and unable to explain the exact circumstances of events.
Gardaí based in Blacklion contacted the North Western Region Headquarters Control Room and the injured man’s location was identified through the GPS system installed in Garda patrol cars.
The regional armed support unit rushed to the scene and found their colleague still in a disorientated state near his patrol car.
According to gardaí there was a strong smell of a flammable accelerant in the air, which had saturated the Garda's uniform. He was taken to Sligo University Hospital for treatment.
The area where the incident took place was sealed off and the Garda Technical Bureau carried out an examination. An incident room has been established under a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) at Cavan Garda Station.
The Garda and his family are being provided with the employee support services, Garda HQ said.
Chief superintendent Alan McGovern of the Cavan-Monaghan Division said the incident was a very serious attack "on an unarmed member of An Garda Síochána going about their normal duties keeping people safe.
“Thankfully the incident has not resulted in a fatality or other serious injury.”
He said a motive for the attack has yet to be determined “but it is extremely concerning that a member of An Garda Síochána appears to have been targeted and doused in some form of accelerant.”
“The exact intent of this attack is unknown at this time” he added.
Gardaí have appealed for any person with any information on the attack to come forward.
It said it would like to speak to “any person driving on the N16, Cavan, passing Loughan House Prison, or the R206 and R207 at their junction with the N16, between 7pm Sunday 27th February 2022 and 3am Monday 28th February 2022, and in particular any person with video footage (dashcam or other format).”
"Unfortunately this horrific and vicious assault once again highlights the dangers faced by our membership while on duty on a daily basis," said local Garda Representative Association (GRA) representative James Morrisroe.
“In recent years we have seen increases in the number of assaults and the viciousness of such attacks. The circumstances of this incident are disturbing and highlight the need to protect the gardaí that society relies on to keep them safe.”
He repeated previous GRA calls for mandatory custodial sentences for people who attack gardaí. “Gardaí working alone, particularly in isolated locations need to be assured that their safety is a priority for our employer and this has to be demonstrated by having the appropriate numbers of members on duty who have adequate transport, driver training and technology such as body cams.
“Currently there are deficiencies that are leaving members at risk in an environment of increasing assaults on our members.”