City centre device first in more than a decade

SUNDAY night's bomb attack on Belfast city centre was the first of its kind in more than a decade.

The 130lb device only partially exploded inside a car left at the entrance to Victoria Square car park, a busy shopping area near a police station and the courts complex. A masked gang had hijacked the Renault Laguna in Jamaica Street in the Ardoyne are of north Belfast at around 9.30pm on Sunday, before placing a bomb on board and ordering the driver to take it to the city centre.

He is understood to have been working as a taxi driver and lived nearby. After abandoning the vehicle, the driver ran across the street to the nearby Musgrave Street police station and raised the alarm. a security operation began and premises were evacuated, leaving some visitors to the city stranded overnight.

The detonator exploded at 11.15pm but failed to trigger the rest of the device - containing more than 130lb of home-made explosives packed into a beer keg.

Police have blamed dissident republicans, who have mounted similar attacks in the past.

In 2009 Oglaigh na hEireann left a 400lb car bomb at the headquarters of the Policing Board at Clarendon Dock in Belfast which also only partially exploded.

In November 2002 the Real IRA left a device, which was later defused, outside the motor tax office at upper Queen Street in the city centre. Two men were later convicted in connection with the bombing.

Last week a female bus driver was ordered to drive to Strand Road police station in Derry with a bomb on board, while on Saturday night a van driver was threatened by two masked men and told to deliver a package to the same barracks.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said Sunday's bomb was a "reckless and callous attack on the people of Belfast which could have put many lives at risk".

"I want to assure everyone that this government takes the threat very seriously and are committed to supporting the PSNI in tackling the threat from wherever it emanates," she said.

The head of the Policing Board, Anne Connolly, said the community is "sick and tired of the actions of dissidents".

"The use of the proxy bomb tactic in recent days is concerning and further evidences the

complete lack of care these people have for those who might get caught up in an attack."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described the latest attack as "utterly pointless".

"There is no public support for these type of actions. The vast majority of people, north and south are fully behind the peace process," he said.

SDLP assembly member Fearghal McKinney said, "It's only good fortune that no-one was seriously injured, or worse, and those behind this have nothing to offer." Ulster unionist Ross Hussey said: "This is utter madness which the vast majority of people in this society, from whatever political perspective, will condemn unreservedly".

DUP assembly member Jonathan Craig said the attack "was a throwback to the darkest days of the Troubles".

Justice minister David Ford said the perpetrators had shown a total disregard for human life: "The people responsible for this attack have nothing to offer and it is time they realised that Northern Ireland has moved on from the dark days of our past."

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also said those responsible are "without any political support". A spokeswoman for the US Department of State said: "The united States condemns the recent cowardly acts of violence in Northern Ireland and reiterates its continued support for those who are working to build a stronger society, a vibrant economy, and an enduring peace.

"The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland are committed to the peace process and to living in a society free of the violence and hatred of the past."

* AFTERMATH: Forensic officers at Chichester Street beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded on Sunday night

PICTURE: Jonathan Porter/Presseye

* SCENE: Police and British army bomb experts prepare to examine the scene at Victoria Square yesterday

PICTURE: Alan Lewis/Photopress


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