The number of "kneecapping" punishment shootings has risen sharply in Northern Ireland and a pressure group founded by parents of victims has warned young people to steer clear of paramilitary extremists.

Protestant gunmen battling to keep Northern Ireland British, and Irish nationalist guerrillas fighting for unity with the Irish Republic, traditionally use punishment shootings to tighten discipline and control in their divided communities.Four people have been shot in the legs and three beaten in the first 10 days of the year, according to police statistics. There were just three attacks in all of December.