POLICE are treating the shooting of a top cop gunned down in front of his son as terrorist-related with the New IRA prime suspects.
DCI John Caldwell was coaching football for youngsters when masked gunmen opened fire in Omagh, Northern Ireland.
The 48-year-old suffered a number of gunshot wounds and remains in a critical condition in hospital.
Four men aged between 22 and 47 have been arrested following the horror on Wednesday and remain in custody.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said today: "Following the attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell on Wednesday February 22, I can confirm that we are now treating it as terrorist-related and our primary line of inquiry is the New IRA."
DCI Caldwell was putting footballs in the boot of his car when the men began peppering him with bullets.
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He bravely told the children to flee as "cowardly" gunmen pointed weapons at them.
Police said children waiting to be picked up "ran for cover in sheer terror" as the shots rang out.
The highly-respected officer's son also witnessed the horror and has been left "traumatised".
Two gunmen fled the scene on foot before making off in a small dark car that was later found burnt out, police said.
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DCI Caldwell was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery after suffering bullet wounds to his torso.
Police confirmed today he remains critically ill and heavily sedated in hospital.
What is the New IRA?
The New IRA is a violent paramilitary group based in Republican districts of west Belfast with some activity in Dublin.
It is formed of dissident Republicans who reject Northern Ireland’s peace process, which saw paramilitary groups decommission weapons in order to end The Troubles.
The IRA was disbanded after the decommissioning and has been inactive for several years but several groups have sprung up under the name.
In 2014, the New IRA sent failed devices to Army career offices in England and carried out a car bombing in Londonderry.
The New IRA was also behind an attack in 2016 when a prison officer died after a bomb exploded under his van in Belfast.
Last March, the threat level posed by dissident republican terrorists in Northern Ireland was lowered from severe to substantial for the first time in 12 years.
The attack is the most serious on a police officer since the murder of Ronan Kerr, 25, in 2011 in Omagh.
He was killed by a bomb that had been attached under his car just outside his home.
Omagh was also the scene of a bombing carried out by dissident republicans on August 15, 1998, which killed 29 people.
The car bombing was the worst single atrocity of the Troubles.
It was perpetrated by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army, an IRA splinter group who opposed the ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was appalled by the "disgraceful shooting of an off-duty police officer in Omagh".
While Irish premier Leo Varadkar condemned the "grotesque act of attempted murder".
DCI Caldwell has been the senior detective in a number of high-profile inquiries including most recently the murder of pregnant Natalie McNally.
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He also worked on the probe for Lyra McKee's death after the journalist was killed during a riot in Londonderry in 2019 in an attack claimed by the New IRA.
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