Four men were arrested and another was taken to hospital following a major security incident involving republicans close to Belfast city centre last night.
Speculation was that police had intercepted an IRA operation in which a dissident republican, said to be one of the leaders of the breakaway Real IRA, had been abducted and seriously injured. An unmarked police vehicle was said to have rammed a van containing five men between the city centre and the Falls Road district. Police said no shots were fired.
Four men were taken into custody and a fifth was taken to hospital. His condition was said to be stable, a description that indicates serious injuries.
An extensive area around the scene of the incident remained sealed off for hours after the incident, which happened about 6pm.
This ideological gulf between the IRA and the Real IRA has led to occasional clashes between the two organisations, with accusations that the IRA has killed a number of people associated with the Real IRA over recent years.
The suspicion that the IRA might be involved in last night's incident led to a immediate Unionist clamour for the organisation to be held publicly responsible for any illegality.
The Democratic Unionist Party spokesman, Ian Paisley Jnr, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, called on police to declare whether the IRA was behind the incident. Police said they could give not details last night, as they were "still at the very early stage of the investigation".
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