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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 18:58 GMT 19:58 UK
Forklift attack on public house
The forklift was smashed into the front of the building
The forklift was smashed into the front of the building
Loyalist paramilitaries have admitted crashing a forklift into a Belfast bar and then launching a petrol bomb attack.

Customers escaped injury after a telescopic forklift was used to break a window and wall of the bar in a flashpoint area of north Belfast.

Three petrol bombs were then thrown inside the Thirty-two Degrees North bar on the Crumlin Road shortly before 0100 BST on Friday.

Windows were smashed and some structural damage was caused to the building when the stolen forklift hit the pub, while a fire which started was quickly put out.

The Red Hand Defenders said they carried out the attack, in a statement using a recognised codeword.

The loyalist paramilitaries also admitted sending bullets through the post to Sinn Fein members which were intercepted by postal workers on Thursday.

The Red Hand Defenders is a cover name used by the Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

The police said a motive for the forklift attack was not yet clear.

This was a well organised plan to cause as much death and damage as they possibly could
Margaret McClenaghan
Sinn Fein
Sean Conlon from Whitefort Inns, which owns the bar, said it was busy at the time of the attack.

"It was done for maximum effect at the time - ten to one - when the bar would be at its height and it was done to create maximum damage and, we believe, murder," he said.

"There was a customer, who had just got up to go to the toilet, sitting directly under the window. So it was only the intervention of God that he is here today."

Sinn Fein councillor Margaret McClenaghan, who visited the scene, believes it was a sectarian attack.

"It was attempted murder on the staff and the customers of that pub," she said.

"It was carried out by the UDA. There have been many attacks over the last few weeks in different areas across the north of the city.

"This was the most serious and it is by the grace of God that nobody was killed there last night."

'Loyalist hooligans'

Ms McClenaghan said the perpetrators had managed to pull steel sheets off the front of the forklift to get access to the cab.

"The bucket part of the digger was packed with slates and burning wood. There was also a very strong smell of petrol.

"When that impacted on the building, the steel shutter of the bar was wrecked.

"There were at least 50 to 60 adults at Twaddell Avenue who began throwing missiles towards the bar," she said.

SDLP councillor Martin Morgan condemned the attack and urged people not to retaliate.

"I have no doubt that the loyalist hooligans responsible for this attack set out to heighten tensions in the area between the two communities," he said.

"I am calling for people in my community to remain calm in the face of this aggression and to remain vigilant."

The forklift has now been removed from the bar - allowing the owners to survey the extent of the damage.

BBC NI's Rosy Billingham reports
"Customers and staff were still in a state of shock - but no one was physically injured"

Sinn Fein councillor Margaret McClenaghan
"The customers were absolutely terrified, and the staff were in a bad state"

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