The arrests of 11 people in connection with the attempted murder of senior detective John Caldwell is a “significant development” in the investigation, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said.
Nine men and two women – aged between 21 and 72 years – were detained in Omagh and Coalisland, Co Tyrone on Friday morning and brought for questioning about the February 22nd shooting. Seven of the 11 had been previously arrested as part of the investigation, Det Supt Eamonn Corrigan told reporters.
It brings the total number of arrests in the investigation to date to 28, involving 21 individuals. No one has yet been charged.
Det Chief Insp Caldwell was shot a number of times in the presence of his young son as he put footballs into the boot of his car after coaching a youth football team in Omagh. He spent weeks in a critically ill in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry and suffered life-changing injuries.
The PSNI has said it believes dissident republican group the New IRA was responsible for the attack.
Det Chief Insp Caldwell made his first public appearance since the incident earlier this week, when he was a guest at a garden party in Hillsborough Castle attended by King Charles and Queen Camilla.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast following Friday’s search and arrest operation, Det Supt Corrigan said his colleague was making a “really good, steady recovery compared to where we were the night he was shot, when we in the investigation team feared he would die and it was treated as a potential murder from the beginning of the investigation”.
“We were all delighted that he was well enough to attend the [garden] party with the king and queen,” he added.
The PSNI has released further CCTV footage and images of cars which Det Supt Corrigan said were “used by the gunmen and those involved on the night of, and prior to, John’s attempted murder”.
He made a specific appeal for information about three cars – a black Mercedes Benz C-Class (W204) 4-door saloon (2007/8 – 2014) and two Ford Fiestas, referred to as “Fiesta One” and “Fiesta Two”.
Det Supt Corrigan said he believed the Mercedes was “used as an operational vehicle by the New IRA both before and immediately after the attack, when it was used to transport the gunmen and others away from the site of the burned out Ford Fiesta in Raculpa Road, referred to as Fiesta One.”
He appealed for information “about who was in this black Mercedes vehicle, where it was before the shooting and where it went afterwards”.
“I know it travelled in a convoy on the Drumnakilly Road headed towards Omagh at 5.43pm on the 22nd with the two blue Ford Fiestas before the attack took place.”
He referred to new images released on Friday of the two Fiestas, and said the “new photograph of Fiesta One shows it leaving Barrack Street in Coalisland at 4.55pm on the afternoon of the shooting and travelling to Omagh.
“It had registration number MGZ 6242, and was fitted with false plates, FRZ 8414, prior to the attack. We know this vehicle left the sports complex and turned left on to the Killyclogher Road immediately after the shooting.
“It then travelled past Glendale Service Station to the Racolpa Road where it was abandoned and set on fire. We believe it travelled into Coalisland around 10pm on the previous night, the 21st.”
Det Supt Corrigan said he was also releasing a new image of Fiesta Two, “registration number RLZ 9805, with a missing alloy hubcap seen at 2pm at Tamnamore Park and Ride on 22nd February”.
“I need to know where it travelled to from here before being burned out in Ardboe Industrial Estate the following day, Thursday 23rd February,” he said.
Emphasising that “no piece of information is too small”, he appealed to “anyone who has information about the movements of these vehicles, or the people within them, to contact police or CrimeStoppers anonymously” and said the £150,000 CrimeStoppers reward was one of the largest available.
CrimeStoppers can be contacted anonymously at 0800 555 111, or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org
Additional reporting – PA