Police have condemned the actions of those responsible for a hijacking and hoax device in North Belfast earlier today, Friday, 25 March.
Speaking at a press facility at Police Headquarters, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said: "First of all, I’d like to thank the local community for their patience during the course of today’s security operation.
“I also want to condemn the disgraceful actions of those who caused major disruption at a peace and reconciliation event in North Belfast attended by dignitaries, guests and media.
“This morning sometime between 9am and 10am a van was hijacked in Sydney Street West, off the Shankill Road Belfast.
“The van driver was threatened by two gunmen and forced to drive his white Vauxhall van a short distance to another street and a device was then placed in the van.
“The victim was then forced to drive the van to Holy Cross Church, Belfast.
“Just think about this, the victim believed at this point he was driving a van containing a live bomb and that his family were being threatened.
“The local community were also impacted. Over 25 homes were evacuated, local schools were affected, and vulnerable residents in a local nursing home had to be moved to another part of their home.
“Most shamefully, a funeral taking place in the church was disrupted, causing further grief to that family.
“This evening, upon further examination, the device has been declared a hoax.
“It was clearly designed to cause maximum disruption to the local community.
“At this early stage of the investigation our assessment is that these crimes were carried out by loyalist paramilitary groups. We are keeping an open mind at this stage but one of the primary lines of investigation is the UVF.
“My appeal this evening is for anyone with any information at all regarding these events to contact us. I would also like to hear from anyone who has information about the movements of a white Vauxhall Vivaro van, registration mark XJZ 7908 in the areas of Sydney Street West and Holy Cross Church. You can contact us by phoning 101 or information can be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is appealing for anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone with any information that will assist the investigation to contact us on the non-emergency number 101. Information can also be passed anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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