Police in Fermanagh have commenced a search operation in response to a report that persons purporting to represent the Continuity IRA left a suspicious device in the Wattlebridge Road area of Newtownbutler. The report was received on Wednesday, 13th January and was followed by a further claim from these violent dissident republicans that they fired shots at a police helicopter in the area on Thursday, 14th January.

South Area Commander, Chief Superintendent Andy Freeburn said: “I can confirm that the Police Service helicopter was not deployed in the Wattlebridge area at any time on Thursday, 14th January. A fixed wing aircraft was deployed to conduct searches on this date. Following extensive enquiries we have established that a private helicopter was travelling through the area on Thursday.

“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.

“We can all show our contempt for such senseless attacks by standing together and working in partnership to find those responsible.

“The Continuity IRA have 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. 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.

“The public will appreciate that we are taking this very seriously and today we have commenced searches, working with our colleagues in An Garda Síochána, to make the area safe and to gather evidence to progress our investigation.

“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.

“I am asking everyone to work with us to find those responsible for this attack on our community. If you have information that can assist our investigation, no matter how insignificant it may seem, please contact us immediately on 101.”