UPDATE: PRISON OFFICER MURDERED IN MOTORWAY TERROR AMBUSH

PSNI probed car crash death after shots fired

A prison officer with 25 years service was ambushed  and shot dead this morning as he went to work.

The serious terrorist incident happened at 7.30 am on the M1 motorway outside Portadown.

Gunmen tailed the married man’s car from his home and opened fire on him, forcing his car to crash.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he had recently been contacted by prison officers who feared for their personal security over possible dissident republican attacks.

“I was shocked and saddened to hear of this morning’s brutal murder of a Prison Officer. One cannot begin to imagine the feelings of his family at this time. They will be in the thoughts and prayers of people across the Province and further afield,” said the North Antrim MLA.

“Once again violent Republicanism has brought death to our streets. This murder is no different from the many other attacks on Prison Service staff carried out by the Provisional IRA. There was no justification then and there is no justification now.

“I have been contacted by Prison Officers who have expressed fears about their personal safety and the inadequate response of the authorities when concerns were raised.

“I hope that today’s tragic events will lead to a renewed focus on the safety of staff so that all measures necessary are taken to ensure that the risk to those serving their community is minimised,” added the TUV leader

Police are holding back the dead man’s identity until his family have been informed. Senior police chiefs have asked the media not to publish a picture of the car until his family have been notified.

And the attack comes less than 24 hours after Secretary of State said dissident republican violence had dropped by 20 per cent over the past year.

It also points up a major intelligence gap between MI5 and the PSNI’s ‘C3’ Intelligence Branch who are charged with fighting dissident republicans and thwarting their attacks.

Two police officers – Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr – have been murdered in the last three years by dissident republicans.

And Peadar Heffron miraculously survived and under car booby trap bomb in January 2009.

This morning’s incident has been widely condemned by politicians.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “Somebody who got out of bed this morning to do nothing more unusual than to get in his car and go to work has been brutally murdered as he drove along the motorway,” UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said.

“We’re hearing that there’s a car burnt out in north Lurgan and so it does seem to have the hallmarks of a terrorist assassination.”

The attack happened on a section of the motorway between the M12 Portadown turn-off and the Lurgan interchange, heading towards Belfast.

The motorway has been closed in both directions.

A car has been found burned out in the Lurgan area.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his thoughts were with the dead man’s family.

He expressed his anger that there was a small element in society that “were determined to drag us back to the dark days of the past”.

Northern Ireland Education Minister John O’Dowd described the man’s death as a “human tragedy”.

“There is no justification for continued conflict in this society,” he said.

SDLP Upper Bann MLA, Dolores Kelly, said the incident was “sickening and disturbing”.

East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long also expressed her sadness following the shooting.

“It has particular ramifications for people,” she said.

“It is very distressing but also very upsetting in a political way. What the people in Northern Ireland want is for this to be over.”

Dissident republicans have been targeting prison officers over the past number of years over alleged ill treatment in Maghaberry Prison.

Groups such as Oglaigh na hEireann and the Continuity IRA have gathering intellgience on off duty prison officers in Lisburn and the north Armagh areas.

During the Troubles, 30 members of the Prison Service were killed by terrorists.

The last to be murdered was 44-year-old Jim Peacock who was shot dead by the UVF in Septmber 1993.

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