'Mainstream' republicans blamed for Gobnascale incident

TEENAGERS in Gobnascale say they were threatened by masked gunmen in an incident that sparked a security alert in the area last Friday night.

And a dissident republican group is claiming that the masked men were mainstream republican movement members.

The incident at Campion Court began shortly after midnight when local people reported seeing several masked men get out of a white van. The men proceeded to remove bonfire material close to a local community centre.

One 15-year-old girl from the area said: "I was with some friends and we'd seen the van driving around the area and it was going pretty fast which is why we noticed it. When the men got out and we saw they were wearing masks my friends and I tried to run off but I have asthma and I couldn't run quickly enough.

"One of the men grabbed me by the throat and had a gun in his hand. I couldn't breath and it was scary."

It has been claimed that having unmasked, some of the men were recognised as members of the mainstream republican movement.

The allegations have been strongly refuted by Sinn Fein and a spokesperson for the party said: "In response to alleged incidents purported to have taken place in the Waterside over the weekend Derry Sinn Fin would take this opportunity to state that anyone who has any information on the alleged events should immediately contact the PSNI."

However, Tony Taylor, a spokesman for Republican Network For Unity (RNU) said that locals had identified the masked men as mainstream republicans.

He said: "We were on the ground shortly after the incident and locals clearly told us that a couple of dozen masked men landed in the area to take the bonfire away. Locals complained to the police and they arrived at the same time as these guys were in the area. They had to take their masks off and it was then people identified them.

"The way that it looked, it could have come across as loyalists going into a nationalist area when tensions are already high enough at this time."

A spokesperson for the PSNI confirmed they had received reports of a number of masked men in Campion Court before the van was abandoned.

The spokesperson added: "We can confirm that we received a report of a male youth being chased by a number of masked men and a report of a group of youths being threatened by a man with a firearm in his possession. An investigation is underway and enquiries are ongoing. Police would appeal to anyone with information to contact them on 08456008000."

The security alert sparked by the van ended shortly after 2pm on Saturday.