Northern Ireland news

Derry undergoes third day of security operations after dissident car bomb

There was widespread disruption in Derry's Creggan area after two separate hijhackings yesterday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

DERRY underwent a third day of major security operations on Monday following Saturday night’s dissident republican car bomb.

Police arrested another man in connection with the ‘New IRA’ attack. The 50-year-old’s arrest brought to five the number of men detained since Saturday. All but the 50-year-old were released unconditionally on Monday night.

As the fallout from the Bishop Street attack continued, British army bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion on a hijacked van while police dealt with two security alerts in the city’s Creggan. In a third security alert on Monday night Northland Road was closed off after an Asda van was abandoned outside St Mary’s College.

Also on Monday night, police said there was an attempted hijacking of a bus in the Moss Road area of Galliagh.

At the height of Monday's security crackdown officers took up positions around the city’s main police station, searching parked vehicles and checking traffic on approach roads. Bishop Street also remained closed throughout the day as police continued their investigation. Several organisations operating in the area remained closed and business at Bishop Street courthouse was either postponed or moved to Strabane. A major security operation was launched in Creggan after three masked men hijacked a white Transit van at Circular Road before throwing a suspicious object into the back. Two hours later a Royal Mail delivery van was hijacked at nearby Southway, a main road into Creggan.

Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said four masked men, one armed with a gun, ordered the two occupants to drive it to Lone Moor Road and to leave it there.

“I know this second security alert and the measures we are taking to keep people safe will cause significant inconvenience for the local community but we have no choice,” he said.

“I want to ask the public for their patience and thank them for their cooperation while we work to make the scene safe.”

Homes around Circular Road were evacuated as bomb-disposal officers later carried out a controlled explosion. Security cordons remained in place on Monday night.

Saturday’s bomb exploded outside the courthouse on Bishop Street following a telephoned warning shortly after a pizza delivery vehicle had been hijacked at gunpoint.

CCTV showed a group of young people walking past shortly before the blast. The grandfather of a 14-year-old girl who was part of the group said she came “within minutes” of death.

Alfie McAleer told the BBC the teenagers were from mixed community backgrounds and his family were “devastated” when they realised the full extent of the danger to which she had been exposed.

The attack was condemned by Britain’s prime minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mrs May praised police officers for their reaction, telling the House of Commons: “This house stands together with the people of Northern Ireland in ensuring that we never go back to the violence and the terror of the past.”

Mr Corbyn said: “The huge achievement of the Good Friday Agreement in reducing violence in Northern Ireland must never be taken for granted.”

Secretary of State Karen Bradley also told MPs that the attack had “absolutely nothing to do with Brexit”.

She said a “crude, unsophisticated” explosive device was used and it was “sobering to think that a truly sickening outcome by those responsible was only narrowly averted”.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said yesterday’s hijackings were acts of “absolute madness” carried out by what he described as “the knuckleheads”.

“People in Creggan have been forced out of their homes, children have been unable to get home from school on this the coldest day of the year. It’s a real kick in the teeth for all the people of Derry,” he said.

Creggan Sinn Féin councillor Kevin Campbell said: “Those responsible for this disruption have shown complete disregard for the people of Creggan.”

DUP MLAs Gary Middleton and Mervyn Storey are to meet Chief Constable George Hamilton this morning to discuss the dissident threat in Derry.

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