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9 September 2004 Edition

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UDA gang rams bar with burning digger

In an act of sectarian terror directed at nationalists, a public house in Ardoyne was rammed with a digger by a UDA gang. In the early hours of Friday 3 September a loyalist gang repeatedly rammed The 32 Degrees North pub in Ardoyne with a telescopic digger and lobbed petrol bombs into the premises after they breached the front wall.

Around 20 customers escaped serious injury in the bar attack which Sinn Féin Councillor Margaret McClenaghan described as "attempted mass murder".

According to McClenaghan the loyalist gang had set fire to a wooden pallet piled with flammable material which was loaded onto the front of the digger.

"The gang was intent on inflicting as much damage as possible on both the bar and its customers", stated McClenaghan. "After the digger smashed through the front wall of the bar a number of loyalists threw petrol bombs into the lounge at drinkers who were trying to escape".

The incident began after a loyalist gang, some 50 to 60 strong, stole the digger from a building site on Twaddell Avenue and drove to its intersection with Crumlin Road from where they launched the attack on the bar which is part of the Ardoyne Shops complex on the Crumlin Road.

Witnesses said the driver of the digger was directed to his target by two men walking alongside the vehicle as his vision was impeded by the digger's security shutters.

The loyalists repeatedly rammed the bar and eventually breached the wall. It was at this point that others in the gang ran forward and showered the bar with petrol bombs and bricks, starting a fire in the lounge.

A caller using a recognised codeword said the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by the UDA, were responsible for the sectarian attack. The caller alleged it was in response to the situation in the Torrens Estate which saw a number of Protestant families leave the area, claiming they were intimidated by republicans. This claim has been dismissed by Sinn Féin.

It is understood the UDA's Brigadier in North Belfast sanctioned the attack with one UDA source saying the attack was an indication that unionist paramilitaries were prepared to go on the offensive.

Sinn Féin's Margaret McClenaghan however said the attack was an attempt to crank up the already high sectarian tensions in North Belfast. "It was well organised and there is no doubt the UDA are behind it".

Bar manager Seán Conlon said the attack was a calculated attempt at mass murder.

Meanwhile, loyalists were also behind an attempt to kill a young man at Floral Road, at the top of the Whitewell Road, when they stabbed him in the stomach.

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