LONDON, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire issued a statement Friday condemning the shooting of a married couple in Belfast by paramilitaries.
The shooting on Thursday night is a sign of continuing problems in the region where governance was thrown into turmoil this week following the sudden resignation of Martin McGuinness, deputy leader of the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly.
In the latest incident, a couple, both in their 50s, were shot in the leg at they attempted to protect their son from gunmen.
They had refused to hand over their son to paramilitaries, with media reports in Northern Ireland saying republican paramilitaries in west Belfast had ordered the attack on the boy.
Community punishments by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland are not uncommon.
The Belfast Telegraph said when gunmen arrived at a house in the Turf Lodge area of Belfast on Thursday evening to carry out the attack, the child's parents fought them off.
A police source told the newspaper: "The parents wouldn't give the son over so they were shot instead," adding that a number of other youths in Belfast are currently under similar threats of punishment. The couple are recovering in hospital.
Condemning the shooting of the husband and wife in their home, Brokenshire said: "This attack could have resulted in two deaths. There is no place for this violence in our society. This couple have been subjected to a brutal attack in their own home. We can all play a part in shaping the type of society we live in."
He urged people knowing anything about the attack to tell the police to bring those responsible before the courts.
Sinn Fein assembly member Pat Sheehan told local media that none of the family were involved in criminality, describing them as a respected family within the community.
"The shooting of a man and woman in their 50s was wrong and I condemn it. There can be absolutely no justification for these type of actions. Whoever is responsible needs to stop these barbaric attacks immediately."
Other politicians in Belfast also condemned the attack.
Meanwhile, Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland until this week, said in a media interview Friday she had alerted police after receiving a threat on social media that called for her to be beheaded.
Foster said the Police Service of Northern Ireland has launched an investigation into the threats against her.
Under political arrangements in Northern Ireland, she ceased to be leader as soon as McGuiness quit as deputy.
Unless McGuinness's Sinn Fein put forward a successor before Monday, a full assembly election will be called, throwing the region into an uncertain period after more than 20 years of relative calmness.
With efforts so far failing to break the deadlock, Secretary Brokenshire said a snap election is now "highly probable."
Sinn Fein has said it will not name a successor to McGuinness, making an election for the Northern Ireland assembly inevitable.