Omagh police shooting: Events being held for John Caldwellon February 25, 2023 at 10:15 am

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A fifth man is in custody after Det Ch Insp John Caldwell was shot in front of his son at a sports club.

John CaldwellImage source, Pacemaker

Events are being held in Northern Ireland on Saturday in solidarity with an off-duty detective who is fighting for his life in hospital after being shot multiple times on Wednesday night.

His football club is holding a walk, which will be followed by a rally in the centre of Omagh, County Tyrone.

The senior detective remains critically ill and sedated in hospital.

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

The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) main line of inquiry is that dissident republican group the New IRA were responsible for shooting the 48-year-old in the car park of a sports complex.

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

Five men arrested over the attempted murder – aged 22, 38, 43, 45 and 47 – remain in custody.

The walk organised by Beragh Swifts FC left its clubhouse at 10:15 GMT, with people encouraged to wear club colours.

The rally which follows will be held at the courthouse in Omagh at 11:30, near the site of a 1998 bombing which was the single most deadly atrocity of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, killing 29 people.

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

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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Beragh Swifts chairman Ricky Lyons said the club was supporting the young players who witnessed the shooting.

“He was taking a kids’ training session – it’s hard to compute that someone would try to attempt to kill John at that moment,” said Mr Lyons.

Investigations ongoing

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

On Friday morning, a police cordon at the Youth Sport Omagh complex was reduced.

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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