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Fourth man arrested over attempted murder of senior detective John Caldwell in Omagh

Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.© PA

(Liam McBurney/PA)© Liam McBurney NewsdeskPA Media

Police in Northern Ireland have arrested a fourth person in connection with the attempted murder of an off-duty police officer who was shot several times.

Gunmen shot Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in front of his young son in the attack at a sports complex in Omagh, Co Tyrone, on Wednesday evening.

Mr Caldwell ran a short distance and fell to the ground where the attackers continued to fire at him as children ran in terror to get to safety, police said.

Mr Caldwell remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital after the attack at the Youth Sports Centre.

In a statement, PSNI said a 22-year-old man was arrested early on Friday morning in the Coalisland area.

The force said the arrest was made under the Terrorism Act and the man is currently being questioned by detectives in Musgrave serious crime suite.

It comes after PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne told a press conference in Belfast on Thursday that three men had been arrested in connection with the attempted murder of Mr Caldwell.

He said: “This morning we have arrested three men aged 38, 45 and 47 in Omagh and Coalisland in connection with John’s attempted murder.

“They’re currently being questioned by detectives at Musgrave serious crime suite.”

The dissident republican group the New IRA are the “primary focus” of the PSNI’s attempted murder probe.

The attack has been condemned by political leaders across the UK and Ireland.

Mr Caldwell was coaching a youth sports team at the facility on Wednesday evening.

Mr Byrne said: “Clearly as an organisation, we are utterly shocked and angered by last night’s brazen and calculated attack.

“John is a father, husband and colleague, and a valued and active member of his local community.”

He said Mr Caldwell has been a valued police officer for 26 years “committed to public service as a senior investigating officer supporting victims and their families in bringing offenders to justice”.

He added: “John is held in the highest esteem within our organisation. He is a credit to his family and to the police service.

“And of course our thoughts are with John and his family as he fights for his life in hospital today.”

Mr Byrne added: “This has sent a huge shockwave across the organisation.

“We’ve been speaking principally with the Police Federation but also with those representatives of senior officers and police staff who would see themselves under threat.

“Clearly, one of the things that defines us is our resilience and our commitment to keep going in dark times and tough times.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said ‘John is held in the highest esteem within our organisation’ (Brian Lawless/PA)© Brian Lawless

“So John knows that his colleagues will now be working tirelessly around the clock to support his recovery but also to bring the offenders that have tried to kill him to swift justice.”

Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said there were “many other young people, children” waiting to be picked up by their parents when the attack on Mr Caldwell took place.

“And those children ran for cover in sheer terror towards the centre,” he told reporters.

He said: “The two gunmen, who were dressed in dark clothing, carried out this cowardly attack and left the scene on foot. At least two other vehicles were struck by their volley of shots.

“We believe the gunmen fled the scene in a small, dark-coloured vehicle shortly after 8pm. We believe this vehicle was abandoned and set on fire in Racolpa Road, Omagh.

“We want to hear from anyone who was in the area or who witnessed what happened to get in touch with any information that could help with our investigation.”

Mr Caldwell is a high-profile officer who has led a number of major investigations, including taking a leading role in the murder probe following the killing of Natalie McNally in Lurgan in December.

According to the BBC, Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, described Mr Caldwell’s injuries as “life-changing”.

Gardaí are working closely in co-operation with their counterparts in the PSNI and have intensified patrols.

Christos Gaitatzis, the principal of Omagh High School whose students were at the scene of the shooting, told BBC Radio Ulster: “I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the youngsters this morning, waking up in the aftershock of what they experienced last night.

“I feel that those people affected here last night were my children, were my family.

The New IRA has been blamed for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry in 2019 (Chiho Tang/Oranga Creative/PA)© Chiho Tang/Oranga Creative

“We really need to get together as a community in order to make sure that these types of instances, that contain violence in the most heinous way I can describe, have to be pushed away from our community.

“(We have to) make sure that those individuals are caught and isolated out of our community to make sure that Omagh remains the town that it always has been – a town that is together, is coming together at all times, especially during difficult circumstances like this.”

The New IRA has been blamed for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry in 2019.

Last November, the group was also thought to be behind the attempted murder of two police officers in a bomb attack in Strabane, Co Tyrone.

Omagh has seen significant dissident violence in the past, including a Real IRA bomb attack in 1998 which killed 29 people – one of whom was a woman pregnant with twins.

It was also where Constable Ronan Kerr was murdered in April 2011.

The terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland was lowered from severe to substantial for the first time in 12 years last March.

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