Terrorism returns to scene of worst atrocity during the Troubles as blast kills officer preparing to drive to work.
Terrorist violence has revisited the town that suffered the worst atrocity of Northern Ireland's Troubles with the murder of a local police officer.
A car bomb killed Constable Ronan Kerr outside his home in Omagh, where 29 men, women and children were murdered in 1998. The killing united unionists and nationalists across Ireland, all of whom vowed to oppose those seeking to destabilise the historic power-sharing settlement in the north.
Kerr died after the explosive device went off beneath his car shortly before 4pm. The 25-year-old Catholic, who only graduated from police training college three weeks ago, lived in Highfield Close off Gortin Road. Neighbours fought to save his life, with one spraying the car with a fire extinguisher. When army bomb disposal officers and police arrived on the scene, families living nearby were evacuated as security forces searched for secondary explosive devices.
Suspicion for the attack will fall on one of the three republican dissident terror groups that have resumed their violent campaign in recent weeks.
Ireland's new prime minister, Enda Kenny, condemned the attack as a "pointless act of terrorism", while unionist and nationalist politicians united against those responsible.
Sinn Féin's president, Gerry Adams, sent his condolences to Kerr's family. "Sinn Féin is determined that those responsible will not set back the progress of the peace and political process," Adams said.
The Ulster Unionist leader, Tom Elliott, described the attack as "evil and cowardly", while a Democratic Unionist member of Northern Ireland's policing board, Jonathan Bell, said he was "devastated" by the murder of a "young hero serving his entire community".
The attack in Omagh will bring back memories of August 1998 when a Real IRA car bomb exploded in the centre of the market town. With 29 people killed – as well as two unborn children – the Omagh bombing caused the single biggest loss of life during 35 years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
No one was ever convicted of direct involvement in the atrocity, although some of the victims' families later took a landmark civil action against a number of men they claimed were leading figures in the Real IRA. The alleged Real IRA leaders are currently appealing a high court ruling in Belfast that they must pay compensation to the victims of the Omagh bombing.
The Omagh bomb also resulted in a damning police ombudsman report which severely criticised the former Royal Ulster Constabulary's handling of intelligence material prior to the attack.
The atrocity came just five months after the Good Friday agreement was signed, marking a historic compromise between unionism and nationalism. The massacre provoked widespread protests, with marches on the home of the Real IRA's founder, Michael McKevitt, and demands that the dissident terrorist group dissolve.
Although a faction of the Real IRA declared a ceasefire in response to the outrage, more militant dissidents broke away and formed a number of terror units dedicated to thwarting the peace process. One of those organisations became Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH).
Last year, the group detonated a bomb underneath the car of a Catholic police officer, Peadar Heffron. Heffron, who was a well-known Gaelic footballer, lost his legs in the blast.
The death of Constable Kerr in Omagh brings to two the number of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) members who have been killed by terrorists since the force underwent radical reforms. In March 2009, a Continuity IRA sniper shot Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon just 24 hours after the Real IRA had murdered two British soldiers outside a military barracks in Antrim.
Republican dissidents were also responsible for car bomb attacks on a PSNI officer and a senior British army officer at the end of 2009. In both cases the intended targets escaped without injury.