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Northern Ireland shooting: Dissident republicans suspected of attempted murder of policeman

File photo of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell speaking on Nov. 17, 2020 in Belfast.
File photo of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell speaking on Nov. 17, 2020 in Belfast. Copyright David Young/PA via AP
Copyright David Young/PA via AP
By Alasdair Sandford
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Three men have been arrested after an off-duty detective was shot and injured at a sports complex in Omagh, in a suspected sectarian attack.

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Dissident Irish republicans are suspected of being behind the shooting of an off-duty police detective in Northern Ireland, in an attack that comes at a sensitive political time and has revived memories of the UK territory's troubled sectarian past.

Three men were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of attempted murder after the officer was shot and seriously injured the previous evening in front of his young son at a sports complex, where he had been coaching children's football.

Police said the three, aged 38, 45 and 47, were being questioned.

The attack in Omagh, about 100 kilometres west of Belfast, has been widely condemned across the political spectrum.

Northern Ireland police named the wounded officer as Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, a well-known officer who has led investigations into murders, organised crime and dissident paramilitary groups.

They say Caldwell was shot several times by two gunmen as he was loading footballs into the boot of his car, accompanied by his son.

A splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is suspected. “The primary focus is on violent dissident republicans and within that there is a primary focus as well on New IRA,” Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told the BBC.

Leaders of five political parties, including the republican Sinn Fein and unionist DUP, issued a joint statement condemning the "cowardly gun attack".

"We speak for the overwhelming majority of people right across our community who are outraged and sickened by this reprehensible and callous attempted murder," the statement said.

By Thursday morning no one had yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes weeks before the 25th anniversary of a historic peace agreement that was opposed by some dissident groups.

It also coincides with talks between the UK government and the European Union to resolve the stalemate over the Brexit treaty covering trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, which has caused political paralysis in the UK territory.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the conflict known as "the Troubles" which left 3,500 dead, establishing a fragile peace. But some paramilitary groups remained active.

Omagh is the site of Northern Ireland’s deadliest attack, an August 1998 car bombing that killed 29 people. A dissident republican group called the Real IRA claimed responsibility.

Additional sources • AFP, AP

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