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7 May 1998 Edition

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Residents thwart loyalist gunmen

By Laura Friel

Vigilance by local residents thwarted the getaway of an armed loyalist gang during a sectarian assasination attempt in the Poleglass area of Belfast.

After 10pm Tuesday May 5, two men knocked on the front door of a house in Glenbawn area of Poleglass and asked for the resident by name. Francis McCourt opened the door but immediately recognised the two men as members of the UVF from Antrim. One of the loyalists pulled a weapon from beneath his jacket. ``The man tried to shoot me,'' said Francis, ``I heard the trigger click twice but the gun failed to fire.'' Francis slammed the door. Undoubtedly his swift reaction saved his life. Minutes before the assasination attempt the two men had been spotted traveling in a maroon Vauxhall Astra by local residents in the Glenkeen area of Poleglass. The two men parked the vehicle and set off on foot towards Glenbawn. An eyewitness described their manner as ``calm, very confident and clearly knew the route they were taking''. Suspecting the car was stolen, residents in Glenkeen immobilised the vehicle and watched for the two men to return. ``We didn't realise it was a loyalist attack, not at first,'' said Sean, a resident. ``A couple of us decided to drive around the estate to see if we could spot the two men, at this stage we thought they were `hoods' although they looked too old to be joyriders.'' The men have been described as over thirty, one dressed in beige jeans and a black jacket stripped with white, the second was wearing denim and one had black gloves. At the entrance of Glenbawn the two men were spotted running back towards their getaway car. ``A resident from Glenbawn shouted across to us that they were UVF, armed and they'd just tried to kill him,'' said Sean. As the two men returned to their car they were challenged by local residents. The loyalist assailants were forced to escape on foot. Two hours later, with residents still searching the estate to apprehend them, the two men were arrested by the RUC. ``Everyone was out looking for them,'' said Sean.

Local people believe the loyalist gunmen probably gave themselves up to a passing RUC patrol in the area. Before moving to Poleglass last autumn, the McCourt family had been intimidated out of Antrim town by loyalists. The family fled after a brutal attack during which loyalists attempted to drag Francis into a car. Francis is a Catholic and his wife Lorraine a Protestant. They have two children, one of whom is disabled.
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