BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Gunmen opened fire in a crowded bar Sunday, killing one man and wounding three others, including an 8-year- old boy, in 24 hours of pre-Christmas violence that left a total of five people shot dead.
Witnesses said two masked gunmen attacked the Devenish Arms in a predominantly Catholic district shortly after Sunday lunch. The gunmen burst into the pub firing indiscriminately, then targeted the snooker room with hails of bullets as screaming customers dived for cover.
'They just chased people around the snooker table shooting at them. The wee boy who was playing snooker was shot in front of this father,' one witness said. 'We all hit the deck and hid under the tables and behind the bar, but the shooting just went on. I was filled with rank fear and thought they would kill me, too. I don't know how so many people escaped.'
The child, who was shot in the head, and two others were hospitalized with critical wounds and one suffered lesser injuries,officials said.
The killing brought to five the number of people shot dead in a wave of Ulster terror attacks and retaliatory strikes during 24 hours of the weekend before Christmas.
Police and army chiefs ordered a full security alert throughout the province, where they feared both Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups planned a pre-Christmas murder blitz.
So far, 98 people have been slain in Northern Ireland's tit-for-tat religious sectarian war this year.
In a similar pub attack Saturday night, two Protestants were shot dead and three wounded in the Donegall Arms, only 2 miles from the Devenish bar. A few hours later, UFF gunmen retaliated by bursting into the home of a Catholic man and killing him in front of his wife.
The three Saturday night slayings at Belfast follwed the slaying earlier in the day of a university student who was shot dead in a gun and tackle shop at Moy, 55 miles west of Belfast, while protecting his father, who had escaped an IRA bomb attempt last month, police said.
In further violence, a firebomb exploded early Sunday in Woolworths in the center of Belfast, causing minor damage, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said. The blast was latest in a series of firebombings at stores in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. The IRA has taken responsibility for many of the attacks.
The leader of the Alliance Party, a middle-of-the-road group with Protestant and Catholic members, John Alderdice, urged new political negotiations to help end the troubles. 'These attacks are an indication that 1992 is not going to be a year to look forward tn. We$ more urgently now need politicians to start new talks.'
The Irish Republican Army has said it was not responsible for the attack on the Donegall pub. But an IRA paramilitary splinter group, the Irish People's Liberation Organization, or IPLO, has been blamed for gun attacks during the weekend in Protestant areas, and the Protestant Ulster Freedom Fighters has claimed retaliatory actions.
Sean McKnight, a spokesman for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, denounced the Donegall pub deaths as a 'sectarian outrage,' indicating that the the IRA was not responsible. Area residents said they believed the IPLO mounted the attack.
The Anglican bishop of Connor, Samuel Poyntz, also spoke out against the killing. 'The murders four days before Christmas are yet another stark example of the ... sacrifice of people because of hatred and bigotry which has blinded individuals,' he said. 'I beg of them that there will be no further retaliations.'