Three men have been arrested in connection with the attempted murder of a high-profile detective in Northern Ireland.
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was shot multiple times on Wednesday in front of his son and other children at sports complex on Wednesday.
Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Simon Byrne, said the men arrested are aged 38, 45, and 47 and are currently being questioned by police.
Caldwell was shot several times by masked men in Omagh, County Tyrone on Wednesday as he put footballs in his car with his son, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan told media.
“Two gunmen approached and we believe both have fired multiple shots. John ran a short distance and fell to the ground. While he was on the ground, the gunmen continued to fire at him,” McEwan said, describing the attack.
The shooting occurred in a crowded space with children nearby, McEwan added, and that “we saw many of those young people and children running in sheer terror to get to safety.” Caldwell remains in a “critical but stable condition” after being taken to hospital.
Police launched an attempted murder investigation and have appealed for witnesses to contact them. “[The] investigation is in early stage. We believe the gunman made off in a small dark car which was later found burned out.” McEwan told BBC Radio Ulster.
McEwan also said “our primary focus is on violent dissident republicans” in the investigation, singling out a group called the New IRA, which was responsible for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in 2019.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has called the attack a “callous, cold-blooded and barbaric attempted murder on an off-duty officer” and appealed to anyone with information to come forward.
The Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar condemned the shooting as a “grotesque act of attempted murder,” on Twitter.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “appalled by the disgraceful shooting,” writing on Twitter, “My thoughts are with the officer and his family. There is no place in our society for those who seek to harm public servants protecting communities.”
The attack is the most serious in Northern Ireland for several years; the last time a police officer was shot in Northern Ireland was 2017, according to Reuters.
In 1998, the town of Omagh saw the single deadliest attack in the 30-year conflict between Roman Catholic nationalists and Protestant pro-British loyalists, as a blast killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and wounded more than 300.
It occurred at the tail-end of the bloody period known as the Troubles, which lasted from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. It was also four months after the signing of the Good Friday peace accord – which ushered in a new era in the region despite the continuation of some fighting.