A spate of shootings in Londonderry is an attempt by paramilitaries to “cement their status and exert control”, a leading police officer has said.
Eighteen people have been shot in Northern Ireland in paramilitary-style attacks since the start of October last year – 11 of those shootings happened in Derry.
Ch Insp Johnny Hunter said such attacks had “little, to no, community support”.
“There is no justifying these attacks, they are barbaric,” said Mr Hunter.
“Those who continue to believe in the use of violence, from whatever criminal grouping they claim to represent, do so to cement their own status and exert control, in full acceptance of the fact that they are victimising their own communities,” he said.
“The majority of people in our communities want to make the transition away from paramilitaries and the associated intimidation and violence.”
Police have not said whether a shooting in the Waterside area of Londonderry on Tuesday was paramilitary related.
What are the latest figures on attacks?
Paramilitary-style shootings and assaults were a feature throughout the Troubles. Their frequency has diminished in the years since the Good Friday Agreement.
The latest police figures, which do not include a shooting in Belfast on 3 October, show that paramilitaries shot 17 people between October 2018 and the end of September this year.
‘Vicious and brutal’
That was three less than during the previous 12-month period, and the second lowest number of shootings in the past decade.
But during August and September, there were five shootings.
Over the course of one week in September, there were three violent assaults in Derry’s Galliagh estate.
- On 25 September a man was shot three times in the legs in what police described as a “vicious and brutal” gun attack.
- Just over 24 hours later a woman has been beaten with a hammer, kicked and punched during an assault by a gang of masked men while she was at home with her young children
- On 30 September, a man was also shot in both legs.
It’s not clear what the motive for these assaults was, however local reports suggest they may have been part of a feud between rival groups:
‘I was shot six times’
Thomas – not his real name – was shot six times in both legs nine years ago.
He was socialising at a friend’s house in Derry when three masked members of vigilante group entered and shot him repeatedly.
“It was 23:30, three masked men came in. I got up and said: ‘It’s me you are looking for’.
“One of the guns sort of jammed. There were about nine people in the house.
“The first boy froze, then a big boy came back and it was: ‘Bang, bang.'”
He added: “I was shot six times, left and right leg. They thought I was going to lose the leg. I remember everything. There was no blood, I don’t know why.
“The injuries were bad, I had surgery every couple of months. I have no knee, I have pins.
“I was operated on for 13 hours and in hospital for a week. I am not the same, I hear a bang now and I jump, I have dreams, my head went.
“I didn’t really leave the house, I am not saying I am over it, I will always remember it, I’m on painkillers and sleepers, I get bad days and good days.”
Police have upped the presence in the Galliagh area over recent weeks. They have appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
Ch Insp Hunter said those behind the recent attacks “rely on people in the community staying silent”.
Peter McDonald, a community worker in Galliagh, told BBC Radio Foyle that people in the area were becoming increasingly afraid of being dragged back into the past.
“We see on the ground an increase in antisocial behaviour, increase in drug taking… but there has to be another way,” he said.
“It doesn’t work, it never worked.”
Those behind the attacks had an agenda contrary to those working “to build for the future of our young people”, added Mr McDonald.
“This community has had its troubles and still does, but there is so much good work going on in this community,” he added.
“We all strive to make a better future for our young people, therefore people want to see that continue rather than what we have come through.”
Meanwhile a man in his 30s was shot at a house in Derry’s Waterside on Tuesday evening.
Police are treating the attack as attempted murder but have not directly linked the shooting to paramilitaries at this stage.
An advertising campaign targeting the paramilitaries behind the attacks was relaunched in August.
The Ending the Harm campaign is part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s action plan to tackle paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime.