Police officer shot and wounded in Northern Ireland

An off-duty police officer was shot dead in Northern Ireland on Wednesday night in what politicians condemned as a “shameful” attack by “terrorists” and a chilling reminder of past violence in the region.

The attack came as London and Brussels were trying to reach an agreement on Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which some activists have warned could destabilize a region where the dispute has paralyzed local politics since last May.

“A man, a police officer on duty, has been taken to hospital for treatment after being injured in a shooting at a sports complex just before 8pm this evening,” the Northern Ireland Police Service said.

The officer was in “critical but stable condition”, according to PSNI police officer Simon Byrne, who said he was “shocked and saddened” by the attack.

According to unconfirmed reports, the man was a detective involved in investigations into paramilitary and drug gangs and was in critical but stable condition following the incident at a youth center in Omagh, County Tyrone.

Tom Elliott, a local lawmaker from the Ulster Unionist Party, told the BBC that two masked gunmen shot the officer dead several times in front of young people at a football training session.

It was believed to be the first such gun attack on a police officer since 2017. The victim is one of the most senior police officers to have been targeted since the end of the three-decade conflict in Northern Ireland in 1998. During the “Trouble”, Republicans fought to end British rule, and loyalist paramilitaries fought to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom.

Neither group immediately claimed responsibility for the shooting.

It happened just over a month before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This deal ended the problems and created a power-sharing political framework that was thrown into crisis by the row over Brexit trade rules.

“This is an outrageous and shameful attack,” Michelle O’Neill, first minister-elect of the nationalist party Sinn Féin, wrote on Twitter. “I unreservedly condemn this reprehensible attempt to murder a police officer.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said: “These terrorists have nothing to offer and must be brought to justice.”

Colum Eastwood, leader of the smaller nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party, called the attack “a chilling reminder of the horrific violence criminal gangs are prepared to inflict on the people of Northern Ireland”.

Omagh was the scene of a bombing by dissident group Real IRA in 1998, months after the Good Friday Agreement was concluded. It killed 29 people – the highest number of casualties of a single atrocity in the conflict.

Chris Heaton-Harris, British Foreign Secretary for Northern Ireland, called the shooting a “shocking incident”. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said it was an “evil act of cowardice”.

And Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Taoiseach, condemned in the strongest terms “this grotesque act of attempted murder”.

A year ago, London lowered the security threat in Northern Ireland from ‘severe’ to ‘significant’ for the first time in a dozen years.

https://www.ft.com/content/a97fef17-d9ff-49bd-9688-a10a6e785cd6 Police officer shot and wounded in Northern Ireland

Brian Ashcraft

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