Robert HARNEIS -TDO- The Assistant Chief Constable of Northern Ireland Mark Hamilton told a news conference that police in Londonderry were given only minutes to evacuate children and hundreds of hotel guests before the explosion of what they described as a highly unstable, crude car bomb device that could have detonated at any time.
Officers spotted a suspicious vehicle at the scene at about 1955 GMT, then received a warning five minutes later that a device had been left there, the force said.
“We moved immediately to begin evacuating people from nearby buildings including hundreds of hotel guests, 150 people from the Masonic Hall and a large number of children from a church youth club,” Hamilton said.
The pizza delivery vehicle was destroyed by the blast ten minutes after that. The van had been hijacked nearby by two armed men around two hours earlier, police said.
CCTV footage released by police showed the driver running from the vehicle after leaving it outside the courthouse.
Hamilton said he thought the attack marked a continuation of militants’ campaigns, rather than an escalation.
Four men were arrested on Sunday and police are looking into whether the New IRA militant group was responsible, officers said.
Two men in their twenties were detained hours after the explosion on Saturday evening outside the city’s courthouse. Two other men aged 34 and 42 were arrested in the city later on Sunday. No one was injured by the blast.
The last fatal attack involving a car bomb was carried out in 2016 by the New IRA when a prison officer was fatally injured by a device left under his van in Belfast.
About 3,600 people were killed in the conflict that was fought between mainly Protestant unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and predominantly Catholic nationalists.
“There is no doubt that in terms of the Brexit element, there will be a section within our communities who will want to exploit that and use that to further their own objectives but I wouldn’t put that as the sole purpose,” Gary Middleton, a local Democratic Unionist Party member of Northern Ireland’s devolved government, told Reuters.
Politicians from all sides - including Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the nationalist Irish Republican Army - condemned the explosion.
The attack is a new unwelcome element as the parliamentary struggle over Brexit and the terms under which Britain leaves the European Union reaches its climax.