Ex-Provisionals blamed for Omagh murder
Deadly faction works as 'freelance outfit'
A GANG of former Provisional IRA activists masterminded the car-bomb atrocity which claimed the life of a young Catholic police officer in Omagh, Co Tyrone, the Irish Independent has learnt.
Recent police graduate Ronan Kerr (25) was described yesterday by PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott as a modern-day hero.
Senior police officers revealed last night the bombing was carried out by a local faction of the Real IRA, which is centred around a group of experienced ex-Provisionals who sided with the dissidents before the Omagh massacre in August 1998.
The group, based in east Tyrone, operates almost as a freelance outfit. It is not affiliated to either of the main RIRA factions -- the gang formerly led by Liam Campbell after he split from founder Michael McKevitt, or the dissidents now known as Oglaigh na hEireann.
Gardai have offered their help in the investigation but so far there is no evidence of any cross-border involvement in the car-bomb attack.
Constable Kerr, who graduated last month, is the first member of the PSNI to be murdered since Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon, Co Armagh, in March 2009.
But there had been recent indications of an upsurge in violence by dissident republican terrorists and the murder will lead to a tightening of security on both sides of the border in the run-up to next month's visit here by Queen Elizabeth.
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, the North's Deputy First Minister, branded the murder an attack on the entire community, while his party president, Gerry Adams, said that republican heartlands were left "seething with anger" over the "futile" murder.
Mr Adams said the revulsion at the killing had affected all sections of the community, but he had heard strident condemnations from lifelong republicans who believed the continuing violence was futile.
"The nationalist and republican people of Tyrone, for example, where this action was carried out, or in west Belfast, heartlands, will be angry," he said. "This isn't just something which unionists or others will be concerned about.
"The people who I know, and who I have known all my life, the people I have been in touch with overnight, are seething with anger.
"They just see this as a futile action. And some of those are very, very hard-boiled republicans who have been through the hardest part of this struggle over the past 30 or 40 years, who have suffered themselves grievously. They just feel outright anger. . ."
First Minister Peter Robinson led Stormont colleagues in pledging the attack would not succeed in derailing political progress.
Detectives suspect Mr Kerr had opened the driver's door and was just getting into the car when the bomb fell off the underside and exploded on impact with the ground as he sat down.
Appealing to the community in Omagh to help the investigation, Chief Constable Baggott said yesterday the murder was carried out by a "potent and dangerous minority".
President Mary McAleese said the "heinous crime" would not "succeed in its evil intent of destroying the peaceful and democratic future to which the people of Northern Ireland" were "so clearly committed".
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said Constable Kerr's death was a reminder that there remained in our midst criminals who had no aim but to destroy the lives of those around them.
"However evil their motivation or brutal their tactics, they will not succeed in defeating the will of the people," he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore described the killing as an "evil act".
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said the force's thoughts were with the family and friends of the young police officer whose life was "taken so brutally and callously".
"Tonight, we in An Garda Siochana stand together with our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
"Our uniforms may be woven from different cloth but the police on this island are bound together by a shared resolve and determination to bring those responsible for this senseless crime to justice."
All Ireland Primate Cardinal Sean Brady implored "the perpetrators of this shameful killing to realise the futility of their actions and to call off this senseless campaign".