Police in Northern Ireland said they removed Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney from an event in Belfast on Friday because of a security concern. 

Coveney was delivering a speech at a peace process event in the city when the alert was sounded, and the event venue was evacuated. 

In a statement posted to its Twitter account, Police North Belfast had declared a “security alert” during the event. Local media reported the incident involved a van that had been hijacked at gunpoint, with the driver forced to drive to the parking lot of the venue where Coveney was speaking.  

Organizers of the event told the Reuters news service a suspicious device was found in the van. Local media reports say the van was found abandoned in the parking lot with the driver inside unharmed. It is unclear what happened to the assailant. Police reportedly remained at the scene and urged the public to avoid the area. 

Coveney, who reportedly had been speaking about the importance of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, was about five minutes into his remarks when he was interrupted. 

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Coveney was taken to a safe location. From his Twitter account, Coveney thanked police for their work and said he was “saddened and frustrated that someone has been attacked & victimised in this way and my thoughts are with him and his family.” 

The incident comes three days after Britain lowered its Northern Ireland-related terrorism threat level for the first time in more than a decade, with police saying operations against Irish nationalist militants were making attacks less likely. 

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.