Shooting fiasco fuels nationalist outrage

Ulster tensions: SAS is accused over injury to 19-year-old
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The security forces in Northern Ireland have come under heavy nationalist criticism after a confused incident in Co Tyrone in which a 19-year-old youth was shot by undercover troops.

A local priest described the behaviour of the soldiers as "chaotic and reckless" in the aftermath of what appears to have been an IRA attack on Coalisland RUC station. The youth was yesterday in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

The full facts have yet to emerge, but locals are generally blaming the Army for what they allege is over-reaction. The incident may have lasting political significance in that it took place in the Mid-Ulster constituency where Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein is standing for Westminster.

Mr McGuinness is already the nationalist front-runner, and local sources say the incident will amount to a "tremendous boost" to his campaign.

Coalisland was crowded on Wednesday night for the opening of an arts exhibition. Locals say the sound of an explosion was followed by gunfire, then the arrival of undercover troops, presumed to be members of the SAS.

Police said yesterday that there had been an explosion at the perimeter wall of the station. The area was sealed off for much of the day as bomb disposal experts examined the scene. Following this, the teenager was shot. He later underwent emergency surgery for a gunshot wound to his stomach. There were clashes later between the security forces and a crowd.

An independent nationalist councillor, Jim Canning, said: "There was a young man lying on the ground with an armed man over him pointing a gun at his head and tying his hands behind his back. A crowd gathered and there was a number of other men who appeared to be some form of undercover plain-clothes soldiers. They were agitated and started shouting to the crowd to keep back and eventually fired plastic baton rounds." Monsignor Denis Faul, a local priest accused the troops of being chaotic and reckless, saying a shot fired by them had hit a car belonging to another priest.

The criticisms echo similar complaints made earlier this month about police actions at a bar at Aghagallon, Co Antrim. Police fired shots at men whom the bar owner said were members of his staff.

He added: "It is a miracle that no-one was killed. These people were like madmen. They were knocking people down and saying they were going to shoot us."

Coalisland was the scene of an SAS ambush five years ago when the security services had foreknowledge of an IRA attack on the same station. Then, the SAS killed four IRA members.