Manhunt under way to find murder gang disguised as Gardai

The murder gang enter the hotel
The murder gang enter the hotel

A manhunt is under way for a four-man gang who carried out a gun attack in a family-run hotel packed with innocent guests.

Criminal David Byrne was shot dead and two others injured as two gunmen armed with AK-47s - and two others with handguns - opened fire in the Regency Hotel in Dublin. Three of the men were dressed as gardaí.

The brazen gangland shooting occurred as about 100 people, including several members of the Christy Kinahan crime syndicate, attended a weigh-in for a boxing event.

Hotel manager John Glynn saw one man shot dead in the reception area of the hotel.

"They fired into the bar and could have hit anyone. They could have turned on anyone," he said. "They could have fired on me or any of the staff or guests."

Two men with AK-47s began firing shots as they reached the main front door of the hotel. A third man dressed in a Garda uniform and a fourth - dressed as a woman - were also involved in the hit, which is believed to be linked to the murder of criminal Gary Hutch, a nephew of Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch.

David Byrne (34), from Raleigh Square in Crumlin - a key Dublin-based member of the Christy Kinahan cartel for years - died at the scene.

Sean McGovern (30), from Captain's Road in Crumlin, was said to be in a serious condition in Beaumont Hospital after being shot in the stomach, while Aaron Bolger (25), from Killinarden in Tallaght, was being treated after he was shot in the thigh.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny called the shooting "an extreme case", while party colleague Richard Bruton branded it "a new low".

"There is a full-scale murder hunt going on here," said Mr Kenny. "Clearly, the interpretation here is that this is the work of rival criminal gangs in the Dublin area."

The Regency Hotel is on the edge of Mr Bruton's constituency. "I think it's very disturbing. I mean the Regency Hotel is a family-run hotel as you know - it's a place that many, many people go for a quiet evening or to events," he said.

"It is really very disturbing to see that level of wanton violence, the disregard for other people who were there.

"It's a new low I think in that sort of criminal activity."

About 20 guests and tourists were in the foyer and bar area of the hotel as one man jumped onto the reception desk and pointed his gun at a BBC sports journalist, who begged not to be shot as he crouched down.

At the same time there was a shoot-out in the function room where 100 people, including dozens of children, had been.

Mel Christle, president of the Boxing Union of Ireland, said the weigh-in had finished when the drama unfolded.

"Everyone including quite young children - aged as young as five years old - and their relatives were there," he said.

Mr Christle said he saw two people - one a man dressed as a woman - run from the scene.

He also saw "One person who had been shot in his leg at the very back of the hall."

"When I was leaving about 20 minutes later, I could see a corpse slumped against the reception desk. His face was completely distorted, is what I can say about it."

Another witness, who was in the function room, said "all hell broke loose" when a man came in and fired three shots in the air.

"There [was] glass breaking, chairs toppling over. It was pure chaos as people tried to run," he said. There were other guys in there with guns. They weren't shooting sporadically - they were picking their targets.

"Other men were armed but we didn't know if [they] were with the men pretending to be gardaí or shooting at them."

Video footage of the shooting later showed dozens of people fleeing in fear for their lives. Children can be heard on the recording screaming: "Daddy, help me… was that," as they ran outside for safety.

Journalist Kevin McAnena, who was in the foyer of the hotel as the gunmen entered, described how a "run of the mill" boxing weigh-in ended up with him "staring down the barrel of gun".

"Most other people had run out and I almost kind of froze," the BBC Radio Foyle sports reporter told RTÉ. "One other guy ran across the lobby and one of the guys with the guns shot him in the lower leg and he went down. He was possibly six feet from me. That's the guy who has now died. At that point I jumped over the receptionist desk and got on the ground."

"I started shouting 'don't shoot, don't shoot' because I could hear more gunfire from the other side."

Gardai said a short time after the four-man gang fled the scene a van was found burnt out at the Charlemont Estate in Marino.

Chief Superintendent Barry O'Brien, from Ballymun, appealed for witnesses. He said they were looking for four men, including some who wore "SWAT-type police uniforms with metal helmets, the likes of which you would see in a crime drama".