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25 November 1999 Edition

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Machete victim saved by neighbours

By Padraig MacDabhaid

Michael O'Hara, a community activist from the Short Strand are of East Belfast, escaped death last week at the hands of machete-wielding loyalists only after neighbours, who heard his screams, chased away his attackers.

O'Hara (43), a father of two, was just arrived at his Seaforde Street home on Wednesday, 19 November at 11.30pm, when he was attacked by two men, one wielding a machete type knife. He was hacked in the arms, back, stomach and head.

O'Hara, the chairperson of the Short Strand Residents Group, said he saw two men with their jackets zipped up over their faces approach him. ``One of them pulled out a gun (an imitation firearm was later found by the RUC near the scene of the attack) and hit me in the face with the butt. I fell or got knocked to the ground. I was kicking out at them and shouting for help.''


 
It was while he was lying on the ground that one of the loyalists hacked at the Short Strand man with a machete-type knife, leaving him with deep wounds on his arms, face, back and stomach.
O'Hara says he would have been killed except that neighbours ran out of their homes and chased the two loyalists. The local people pursued the pair, who tried to escape through the grounds of St Matthew's church. The RUC who then arrived at the scene, arrested one man.

28 year-old David Samuel Armstrong, of Station Road Belfast, appeared in Belfast's Magistrate's Court on Saturday, 20 November, charged in connection with the attack.

``I could not praise my neighbours highly enough, they saved my life. It's a great locality the Short Strand - they have lived through this kind of thing for so long,'' said O'Hara, who went on to accuse some loyalist politicians of ``whipping people into a frenzy''.

Sinn Féin Short Strand representative Joe O'Donnell said: ``This was a disgusting attack on an ordinary nationalist resident. It was without doubt purely sectarian. I am calling on all politicians with any influence to do all in their power to prevent these incidents. It is time for a clear signal to be sent to the perpetrators of such crimes. They are unacceptable.''

Meanwhile, there is speculation that the LVF may have been involved in the attack.

The attack on Michael O'Hara was the latest in a long line of incidents in the nationalist enclave during the past number of months, including two pipe bomb attacks, six petrol bomb attacks, and the hanging of a loyalist flag on the spire of St Matthew's church. Three weeks ago, two British soldiers were caught by local republicans after they had joined with a loyalist gang to attack the area.

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