Police tonight accused dissident republicans of trying to kill police officers during rioting in North Belfast last night.
Blast bombs thrown during rioting surrounding an Orange Order parade passing the nationalist Ardoyne were the work of dissidents who had paid no heed to Sinn Féin leaders’ attempts to keep protesting peaceful, they said.
Video footage of the violence shot from a helicopter showed terrorists clambering on to the roof of a row of shops to hurt blast bombs at police lines.
Superintendent Gary White, the senior officer in control on the ground during the march said: “This was a clear and deliberate attempt to kill police officers, there can be no doubt of that.
“By any definition these people were terrorists and our intelligence would suggest that they were dissident republicans.”
He said police came under an “lengthy and ferocious attack, very much at the upper end of the scale”.
There were nine blast bombs thrown six exploding, – dozens of petrol bombs thrown and lots of stones and bottles.
One hundred police officers, two ambulance staff and eight civilians including two journalists, were injured, police revealed.
The violence had been orchestrated , said Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland, and 300 rioters attacking police with petrol bombs and missiles and “mysteriously” moved away from police lines just before the blast bombs began to fly.
Speaking at a Belfast press conference both officers defended the PSNI and themselves against accusations over the police operation to get the Orange parade up the Crumlin Road.
Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly accused the police of overreacting to trouble, and of moving in with water cannon and them plastic bullets before giving marshals enough time to calm things.
Mr McCausland said: “There were those who were intent on violence. We had to deploy a number of tactics to protect officers and the community.
“We did not over react, we did not react disproportionally, we feel we acted in a perfectly proportionate manner.”
He said the PSNI felt they had nothing to hide and had referred their actions to the Police Ombudsman for investigation.
Mr McCausland said there was no policing solution to the long running parades dispute in the Ardoyne. “It requires the community to work together to find a solution.
“I would call on all community workers and politicians to get together and try to get a resolution we do not want a repeat next year.”
The Assistant Chief Constable had praise for Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly for their efforts to keep the nationalist protest calm and peaceful.
“There were a lot of who made a lot of effort to make yesterday peaceful, but there were those who were intent on violence and the blast bombs were a very sinister escalation”.
Superintendent White took particular exception to accusations he from Gerry Kelly that he overreacted with his response to attacks.
“I feel my personal integrity had been challenged. I think Mr Kelly is wrong.”
He said invited the Sinn Féin representative to visit him and view the video footage of the trouble to see why he had given the orders he had.
Both officers pledged to use the video footage to track down those responsible for the violence, many were very clearly filmed, right down to the surgical gloves worn by those handling blast bombs.