First Minister Arlene Foster has branded dissident republicans who allegedly targeted a privately owned helicopter in Co Fermanagh as “crazed political ideologues”.
The PSNI is examining claims made by a person stating they speak for the Continuity IRA that shots were fired at a helicopter in the Wattlebridge Road area of Newtownbutler last week.
Meanwhile, a security operation is under way in the Wattlebridge Road area following claims that a device had been abandoned there.
Police say they received a report on January 13 that a device was left, followed by the claim that shots were fired at a police helicopter in the area on January 14.
Ms Foster said the helicopter incident in Wattlebridge highlights the “utter stupidity and recklessness of these republican terrorists”.
The DUP leader said there has always been a small band of extreme republicans in the area “who mindlessly cling to the days of bombing and shooting”.
“This latest incident where republicans claimed they left a device in the area and then shot at a civilian helicopter is crazy,” she said.
“Regardless of the debate of whether they did or did not target a helicopter who in their right mind would even think about shooting down a helicopter over a populated area? The devastation is unthinkable.”
She added: “There have been a few instances in recent times which have highlighted the utter stupidly and recklessness of these republican terrorists.”
“I condemn their actions and urge the community in and around Newtownbutler on both sides of the border to go to the police if they have information. It is time to remove these crazed political ideologues.
“It is time for them to back off and leave their communities alone.”
South Area Commander, Chief Superintendent Andy Freeburn, said the police helicopter was not in the area at any time on January 14.
“A fixed wing aircraft was deployed to conduct searches on this date,” he said.
“Following extensive inquiries 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.”
Mr Freeburn said police are taking the claims “extremely seriously” and condemned the “absolute disregard for the lives of ordinary people”.
He said police are working with the Gardaí to make the area safe and gather evidence.
“The fact that this alleged attack was intended for police, makes it no less heinous,” he said.
“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.”
He added: “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.”