Belfast Telegraph

Third arrest over Ronan Kerr murder

Detectives investigating the murder of Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh have arrested a third man.

The 33-year-old was detained in the Omagh area today over the booby trap bomb attack that killed the 25-year-old officer outside his home on Saturday.

Police have been given five more days to question a 26-year-old man arrested in Scotland on Wednesday and re-arrested yesterday and a 40-year-old man arrested near Omagh on Thursday.

The bomb attack was blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

The fresh arrest came as police have also announced the launch of a major reinvestigation of cold case dissident republican attacks.

It has also emerged that the terror groups are continuing to target policemen in the wake of Pc Kerr's murder.

The public outcry following the young Catholic officer's death has had no influence on the mindset of the violent extremists, who remain focused on killing members of the security forces, according to senior police sources.

Detectives have evidence the dissidents have been actively targeting Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) personnel since the weekend murder.

Officers do not want the nature of the intelligence to be made public for investigative reasons, but they say murder plots are being uncovered at a rate of one a fortnight.

One PSNI source added: "There is absolutely no indication the community outrage has had any impact on the mindset of the dissidents."

In a further development, it has emerged that just 24 hours before the fatal car bomb blast in Omagh, police had ordered a specialist team of detectives to begin sifting through evidence from historic dissident attacks in a bid to ramp up the pressure on the terrorists.

The cold case review will see exhibits analysed using the latest fingerprint recognition technology and Low Copy Number (LCN) DNA forensic techniques.

The team's work is being funded directly by the additional £245 million secured by the PSNI from the Treasury and Stormont Executive to tackle the dissident threat.

High-ranking security sources revealed the additional investigative tactic against the wider dissident movement as two men arrested on suspicion of Pc Kerr's murder continued to be questioned.

The review will examine specific crimes detectives believe may have involved present-day dissidents.

While the specialist detectives will probe crimes dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, the principal focus will be on a series of incidents around the turn of the 21st century.

It is understood one is the Real IRA murder of a civilian building contractor at an Army base in Limavady, Co Londonderry, in 2002.

David Caldwell, 51, died when he picked up a booby-trap bomb hidden in a lunchbox at the TA base.

However, the team will not confine its work to terror acts and every facet of suspected dissidents' affairs will be examined, from past financial dealings to potential involvement in other crimes.

"We hope to engender a state of paranoia among the dissidents," said another police source. "Make their lives as uncomfortable as possible."

Sources also said:

:: While there is no evidence of a major escalation of dissident attacks, the PSNI have protocols with police services across the UK to provide resource back-up if it was ever needed.

:: The dissidents retain the ambition to launch an attack on mainland UK but there is no specific indication one is imminent.

:: Security operations will be increased for the Stormont Assembly election campaign and during the Queen's historic visit to the Republic of Ireland in May in case the dissidents launch a headline-grabbing attack north of the border.

:: Much of the dissident arsenal originates from the former Yugoslavia and illegal arms continue to come into Northern Ireland in "dribs and drabs".

None of the renegade groups has yet claimed responsibility for the murder of Pc Kerr.

But officers have indicated that increasing links and co-operation between disparate organisations means a specific claim is not as relevant to their investigation as it might once have been.

They believe there are nearly as many as 30 distinct groupings operating across Northern Ireland, some claiming to be the Real IRA, some Continuity IRA, some from Oglaigh na hEireann, with other groups claiming no affiliation at all.

The fluid nature of the dissidents has seen a new grouping emerge in the Co Tyrone area in recent months.

The first two men arrested in connection with Pc Kerr's murder are being questioned at Antrim police station.

The 40-year-old and 26-year-old are also being quizzed about a substantial arms and explosives cache uncovered by the murder investigation team in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, on Tuesday night.

Yesterday it emerged that a five-year-old girl was among crowds of spectators gathered just yards from the car bomb which killed the new recruit before it went off.

Detectives released a picture showing the girl waving to runners taking part in the Omagh half marathon right next to the booby-trapped vehicle.

Police believe the high explosive device had already been planted when the image was taken on Saturday afternoon.

Two hours later, it detonated with devastating consequences when Pc Kerr got into his black Ford Mondeo to go to work.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has warned the killers that the hunt to bring them to justice will be relentless.

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