Omagh police shooting: Detectives granted more time to question suspectson February 25, 2023 at 10:38 pm

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Court grants extension of men’s detention as more than 1,000 gather in protest against violence.

John CaldwellImage source, Pacemaker

Investigators have been granted more time to question four of the five men arrested in connection with the shooting of Det Ch Insp John Caldwell.

On Saturday a court in Belfast granted an extension to the detention of the suspects, aged 22, 38, 45 and 47, until 10pm on Tuesday 28 February.

They and a fifth man, aged 43, remain in custody in the Serious Crime Suite at Belfast’s Musgrave Police Station.

Det Ch Insp Caldwell is critically ill in hospital following the attack.

The senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer was shot multiple times in front of his young son at a sports complex in Omagh, County Tyrone, on Wednesday evening after coaching under-15s at football.

On Saturday more than 1,000 people took part in a walk and a rally to show support for Det Ch Insp Caldwell who was off duty when he was shot.

Many attending the rally held posters which said “no going back! Unite against paramilitary violence”.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland said he had suffered life-changing injuries.

Woman holding sign saying 'no going back' - People taking part in a rally outside Omagh Courthouse to unite against paramilitary violence following the shooting of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.

Image source, Brian Lawless/PA

The PSNI’s main line of inquiry is that dissident republican group the New IRA was responsible for shooting the 48-year-old in the car park of the Youth Sport Omagh site.

Dissident republicans oppose the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal and continue to use violence to attempt to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Five men were arrested on Thursday and Friday in the Omagh and Coalisland areas of County Tyrone in connection with the attempted murder.

Det Ch Insp Caldwell’s football club, Beragh Swifts FC, organised the walk.

The route from Beragh Swifts FC to Beragh Red Knights GAA club was short but significant – Constable Ronan Kerr was a member of the GAA club when he was murdered in 2011.

On Saturday afternoon, after the walk, police confirmed that a security alert is ongoing in the Beragh area after a suspicious object was found on Dervahroy Road.

On Saturday afternoon, after the walk, police confirmed that a security alert was ongoing in the Beragh area after a suspicious object was found on Dervahroy Road.

The PSNI said it was too early to speculate on whether the events were linked.

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The rally, which was organised by trade unionists, was held after the walk on Saturday morning, near the site of a 1998 bombing which was the single most deadly atrocity in Northern Ireland’s Troubles, killing 29 people.

The bombing was carried out by dissident republican group the Real IRA.

People gathered in Omagh

Image source, Brian Lawless/PA

‘Hit everybody hard’

Beragh Red Knights GAA club coach Celine Curran said the attack on Det Ch Insp Caldwell has “affected the community as a whole in Beragh”.

“It’s really hit everybody very hard,” she told BBC News NI.

Carmel Quinn and Celine Curran

“We’re all coaches at the end of the day. We’re all parents at the end of the day.

“Our children go to Youth Sport as well – it’s got nothing to do with religion.

“We are here in support of a father who was doing a coaching job and a son who has witnessed something life-changing.”

Bovelle Hamilton

Bovelle Hamilton has known Det Ch Insp Caldwell since he was eight years old and came to show support to him and his family.

“We are absolutely shocked at what happened to him,” she said.

Geoffrey Irwin also took part in the walk.

He said: “I know John personally, I went to primary school with him and also high school in Omagh.”

He added that John was “very dedicated” to the club and gave up his free time to volunteer.

Geoffrey Irwin

Image source, Huw Evans picture agency

Mr Byrne said it was a significant show of solidarity that showed the “sheer sense of outrage at this pointless and senseless attack”.

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Investigations ongoing

Police believe the gunmen made off in a small, dark car, which was found burnt out at Racolpa Road, outside Omagh.

Map of shooting at Youth Sport Omagh

An Garda Síochána (police in the Republic of Ireland) continue to work closely with the PSNI after the shooting, a spokesperson said.

Gardaí previously said it had intensified patrolling in border counties following the attack.

It added that it would provide the PSNI with assistance as required as the investigation continues.

Last March, the the threat level posed by dissident republican terrorism in Northern Ireland was lowered from severe to substantial for the first time in 12 years.

The decision to lower the threat level was taken by the Security Service (MI5) after assessing a wide range of information, independently of ministers.

Since 2010 it had been “severe”, meaning attacks are highly likely. It is now “substantial”, meaning attacks are likely.

The threat level is assessed over a period of time rather than in reaction to one event.

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Analysis box by Julian O'Neill, NI home affairs correspondent

The attack appears to underscore the re-emergence on the New IRA after nearly four years of surface-level inactivity.

In 2019, the dissident republican grouping shot dead journalist Lyra McKee as she watched rioting unfold in Londonderry.

Within a year, its suspected leadership was rounded-up by the PSNI following a surveillance operation run by MI5 using an alleged agent.

Ten individuals are currently awaiting trial on almost 50 terrorism charges as a result of Operation Arbacia.

In the aftermath, the New IRA was viewed as being in complete disarray and last year, for the first time in more than a decade, the government announced the threat level in Northern Ireland was being lowered from severe to substantial.

It might not have sounded much, but it was a hugely symbolic moment.

Attacks, or attempted attacks, dropped markedly: the years 2020-22 saw a virtual absence of activity.

But the New IRA was re-organising and in November it mounted a roadside bomb attack, using military grade explosives, on a police patrol car in Strabane.

The armour-plated vehicle did its job and two officers inside escaped injury.

The attack has now been followed up with the attempted murder, less than 20 miles away, of Det Ch Insp Caldwell.

Read more here.

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Dt Ch Insp Caldwell has been the senior detective in high-profile inquiries including:

He had received a number of threats in the past, BBC News NI understands, and was aware his investigations of dissident republican attacks made him a high-profile target.

He continued to carry out his activities as a football coach and whether that was a pattern that aided the targeting of him is of course a matter for the investigation.

The last gun attack on a PSNI officer was in January 2017.

The PSNI officer was hit by automatic gunfire at a petrol station in north Belfast.

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