DUBLIN (AP) — Gunmen disguised as police opened fire on boxing fans at a Dublin hotel Friday, killing one man and wounding two others in an attack that could reflect tensions within Ireland's top cocaine-smuggling gang.
Fans attending the weigh-in ceremonies for a Dublin boxing event fled in terror as two gunmen wearing police uniforms opened fire inside the lobby of the Regency Hotel.
Witnesses inside the ballroom hosting the ceremony saw two other men in the crowd, including one disguised as a woman, running away holding handguns. It wasn't clear whether they opened fire, were working as scouts for the other gunmen, or had come to the event armed and in disguise in anticipation of trouble from a rival gang.
Mel Christle, president of the Boxing Union of Ireland, said the gunfire started seconds after the final boxer was weighed in. He said he saw one gunman, holding a handgun and dressed as a woman, flee through the crowd as two others dressed as policemen opened fire in the lobby.
Witnesses in the lobby said both attackers disguised as police carried assault rifles. Kevin McAnena, a sports reporter for BBC Radio Foyle in Northern Ireland, said he dove behind the reception desk for cover when one of the gunmen fired an initial crippling shot into the leg of the man who was ultimately killed.
McAnena said one of the gunmen peered over the desk and aimed his rifle at him, but didn't fire.
"I was looking down the barrel of the gun and thought I was going to die. It was utterly terrifying," he said.
Christle was inside the ballroom at the podium beside the boxers being weighed, accompanied by deafening heavy metal music that drowned out initial sounds of the gunfire outside. He said more than 200 fans — among them many young children and relatives of the boxers — ran or fell to the ground as people fleeing gunfire in the lobby ran through the ceremony. He said the attackers had targeted specific individuals.
"There's no doubt about that. This was not indiscriminate," Christle said.
As the crowd cleared and Christle exited the ballroom, he said he could see the slain man's body slumped beside the hotel reception desk. "He was riddled," he said.
Police said two other men were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. They said all three victims, men in their 20s and 30s, were believed to be members of the same group and all had criminal connections.
Detectives said it was too early to specify a motive. But Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who spoke by phone to the justice minister and police commander, said the attack was believed to be "the work of rival criminal gangs in the Dublin area."
Suspicion focused on a deadly feud involving the family of the boxer headlining Saturday's planned fight, Jamie Kavanagh.
The 25-year-old Dubliner was scheduled to contest the vacant WBO European lightweight title Saturday night. It was to be his first fight in Dublin since the gangland killings of his father, Gerard, and uncle Paul, both of whom were convicted drug traffickers and lieutenants in the cocaine-smuggling empire of Christy Kinahan.
Gerard Kavanagh was gunned down inside an Irish bar in Spain's Costa del Sol in September 2014. Paul Kavanagh was shot to death behind the wheel of his parked car in Dublin in March 2015. Both men were suspected of pocketing money being collected from Dublin dealers on behalf of Kinahan's Spain-based empire.
A third Kinahan henchman, Gary Hutch, was shot to death outside his Costa del Sol apartment in September amid spiraling tensions between the Irish And Spanish power bases of the gang.
Jamie Kavanagh wasn't an apparent target Friday.
"Anyone asking I'm OK! Thanks you for asking. I was lucky today is all I can say," the fighter said in a tweet.
BoxNation, the British cable channel promoting Saturday's bout, said in a tweet that the event had been cancelled.