Booby trap bomb kills policeman in Northern Ireland

Catholic officer from Omagh is first member of security services to be murdered in two years

A Northern Ireland police officer was killed in a car-bomb explosion outside his home in Omagh, Co Tyrone, yesterday. Ronan Kerr, a 25-year-old Catholic member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), was killed at the scene.

The PSNI later arrested a 28-year-old man for "possession of a firearm held in suspicious circumstances". The man, from the Portadown area, was taken to a police station for further questioning.

Mr Kerr, described by distraught colleagues as a "modern-day hero" who had made an "indelible mark" on the community, was caught by a booby-trap bomb that exploded under his car. It went off just before 4pm, outside his home in Killyclogher, one mile from Omagh.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said last night: "I utterly condemn the murder of a young police officer who had dedicated himself to serving the entire community of Northern Ireland. This is a terrible tragedy for all who knew him and for a town that had already suffered so much."

He added: "Those who carried out this wicked and cowardly crime will never succeed in dragging Northern Ireland back to a dark and bloody past. Their actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people from all parts of the community. We, with our partners in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish government, stand four-square behind the people of Northern Ireland, who have said time and again they want a peaceful, shared future."

The Irish President, Mary McAleese, said: "This heinous crime will not succeed in its evil intent of destroying the peaceful and democratic future to which the people of Northern Ireland are so clearly committed."

Northern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson, said: "He was a young man who was bravely entering the police service, recognising that he was putting his life on the line. I have absolutely no doubt the overwhelming number in Northern Ireland want to move on."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "Whoever carried out this act offer nothing to the community and have no role to play in our future. They have betrayed the community and set themselves against the will of the people of Ireland. No cause is served by this act and let no excuse be acknowledged."

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said his thoughts were with the family of the police officer. "Sinn Fein is determined that those responsible will not set back the progress of the peace and political process."

The SDLP chairman, Joe Byrne, said it was a brutal attack. "Violence is never acceptable. The people of Omagh are stunned," he added.

Since 2007, dissident republicans have planted dozens of booby-trap bombs under the private cars of police officers. In the majority of cases, they fail to detonate. But in May 2008 and January 2010, two policemen lost their legs in attacks.

Mr Kerr is the first member of security services to be killed in Northern Ireland in more than two years. Stephen Carroll, an officer with the PSNI, was shot dead while on patrol in nearby Craigavon in March 2009.

The latest incident comes at a critical stage for the newly formed PSNI. Last week, the British government said the PSNI would no longer be required to hire Catholic applicants in preference to Protestants, in an effort to lift the affirmative action policy, which had been in force since 2001. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson, said the policy could no longer be justified, since the percentage of Catholic officers in the PSNI had increased to 29.76 per cent, compared with 8.3 per cent in 2001.

Reform of Northern Ireland's overwhelmingly Protestant police force was a central goal of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Last year, a coalition of local parties, including Sinn Fein, received control of the Northern Ireland justice system from Britain, further boosting Catholic involvement in the police.

The attack in Omagh is a chilling reminder of the afternoon of 15 August 1988, when Northern Ireland suffered its single bloodiest attack during the 30-year Troubles. A 500lb car bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, killing 29 people.

Nobody has been successfully prosecuted for the attack, which was carried out by a Republican splinter group, the Real IRA. In June 2009, victims' families won a £1.6m civil action against four unconvicted suspects.

The judge in the case found Michael McKevitt, who is serving a sentence for directing terrorism for the Real IRA, responsible for the attack. Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were also held liable.

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