Off-duty police officer shot and injured in Northern Ireland

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

The attack came as London and Brussels seek to hammer out a deal on Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland that some campaigners have warned could destabilize a region where the dispute has paralyzed local politics since last May.

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

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

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

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

It is 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 be targeted since the end of Northern Ireland’s three-decade conflict in 1998. During the Troubles, Republicans fought to end British rule and loyalist paramilitaries fought to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the shooting.

It came just over a month before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. That deal ended the problems and created a political framework for power-sharing that has been plunged into crisis over the dispute over Brexit trade rules.

“This is an outrageous and disgraceful attack,” tweeted Michelle O’Neill, first ministerial candidate for the nationalist Sinn Fein party. “I strongly condemn this reprehensible attempt to kill a police officer.”

Sir Geoffrey 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 that criminal gangs are willing to inflict on the people of Northern Ireland”.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “shocked” by the shooting. “My thoughts are with the officer and his family. There is no place in our society for those who seek to harm public servants who protect communities.”

Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance party, said it was an “evil act of cowardice”.

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

Omagh was the site of a bomb attack in 1998 by dissident group the Real IRA, months after the Good Friday Agreement. It killed 29 people – the highest toll from a single atrocity in the conflict.

A year ago, London downgraded the security threat in Northern Ireland to “substantial” from “severe”, the first time it has been downgraded in twelve years.

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