- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 March 2009 02.32 GMT
A police officer was shot dead in Northern Ireland last night as dissident republicans intensified their terror campaign aimed at destabilising power sharing in the province.
The policeman was shot in the head before 10pm in the Lismore area of Craigavon in north Armagh, 26 miles south-west of Belfast.
Later, around 12.20am this morning, there were reports that a black car had been raked with gunfire on the outskirts of Craigavon. There were unconfirmed reports that the car had earlier been rammed by a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) patrol.
The murdered PSNI officer, believed to have been an experienced officer who had been in the force for more than 20 years, was part of a patrol that had been called out to the Drumbeg estate after reports of suspicious activity in the area.
At a press conference early today, the PNSI chief constable Sir Hugh Orde said: "Today a police officer with his colleagues responding to a call for help from a vulnerable person in the community was gunned down."
Asked if the Massereene barracks murders in Antrim were linked to last night's killing, Sir Hugh said: "I think you are giving (the attackers) credit they ill deserve. I think these are disparate groups, badly infiltrated and indeed many awaiting trial north and south of the border.
"It just reminds us that a small group of people determined to wreck what is huge political progress are becoming more dangerous. We are mindful of that and will do our best in every way to bring these people to justice."
Sir Hugh sent his sympathies to the murdered policeman's family and said he was very proud of each and every one of his officers.
Local reports said the gunmen shot the officer at long range from the housing estate. There were unconfirmed reports that another PSNI officer was badly injured in last night's shooting.
This killing is the first of a PSNI officer since the police force was transformed by reforms under Chris Patten, the former Tory party chairman, in 2001.
The Real IRA has mounted several assassination bids against PSNI officers over the last 18 months.
The latest terrorist incident took place on an estate where there had been violent scenes late last year following PSNI house raids. Gunfire was directed at PSNI Land Rovers and petrol bombs were hurled at the police during the violence.
Last night British military helicopters hovered and armed police patrols sealed off roads leading into the Drumbeg housing estate in Craigavon.
Last night's murder has compounded the sense of shock and concern following the weekend double murder by the Real IRA of two young British soldiers who died in a hail of gunfire outside the Massereene army barracks in Antrim town.
Nationalist politicians joined unionists in condemning the latest murder. Sinn Féin's local assembly member John O'Dowd called on the entire community to back the PSNI investigation into the policeman's murder. O'Dowd said the killers would not drag the north of Ireland into the past.
The SDLP assembly member for the area, Dolores Kelly, said: "I was in the area immediately after the shooting and I regret to say I am hearing reports that the officer has died. We are staring into the abyss. There is little point appealing to the people who planned and did this, but all of us have to realise we are on the brink of something absolutely awful. All of us have to get together to pull ourselves back from the brink. A tiny handful of people with nothing to say and nothing to offer cannot be allowed to destroy so much."
The party representing one of the main loyalist terror groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force, appealed to the loyalist community last night to stay calm.
Dawn Purvis, the leader of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist party, said: "Obviously the details surrounding this shooting are only just coming through but my thoughts go to those that may be injured and their families. The message remains the same, the perpetrators will not be allowed to damage our peace process. I appeal for calm and for people to assist the police by providing them with the information that can take these people off the streets and before the courts."
Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, said: "It is with great sadness that I have learned of the murder of a police officer in the Lismore area of Craigavon. This officer was serving his community at the time of the incident. I unreservedly condemn this evil deed and offer my sincere sympathy to the officer's family circle. The entire police family is in my thoughts and prayers at this time.
"I am sickened at the attempts by terrorists to destabilise Northern Ireland. Those responsible for this murderous act will not be allowed to drag our province back to the past.
"On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party and the people we represent, I would urge the prime minister and the chief constable to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that innocent life is protected in the face of this terrorist threat across Northern Ireland," Robinson said.
The two main parties in the Northern Ireland assembly, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin, pledged last night to work together and ensure that the political process survives despite the rising terror levels. Tomorrow morning Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and DUP leader Peter Robinson will travel to the United States for a tour aimed at attracting US investment into Northern Ireland. During their trip they will meet President Obama for St Patrick's Day festivities at the White House.
A spokesman for the PSNI said police were called to Lismore Manor, Craigavon, at around 9.45pm, following a request for assistance from a member of the public.
He said: "Two police vehicles arrived in the area. Both officers alighted from the vehicles. It appears gunshots were fired at them. One officer was struck by gunfire and subsequently he has died from his wounds."
Lord Maginnis, UUP spokesman, said those behind the attacks had barely any "grass roots" support but were getting "an opportunity" to publicise their cause.
He told the BBC: "We have a chief constable who has warned us and warned us and warned us about the danger of dissident IRA. That has put pressure on the leaders of dissident IRA to have a big show to kill those soldiers at the gates of Massereene barracks, to kill this policeman."