'By good grace, people weren't killed' – four men arrested in connection with Derry car bomb explosion

Four men have been arrested over the New IRA’s car bomb attack on Derry court house.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed that the  ‘New IRA’ group of dissident republicans – who have made no secret of their desire to exploit the fallout from Brexit – are their main line of inquiry.

The blast came shortly after 8pm on Saturday when a vehicle exploded on Bishop Street, the PSNI said it was fortunate that no-one was killed or injured.

Police have confirmed to that they arrested two men, both aged in their twenties, in the Derry city area this morning.

Later today two more men, aged 34 and 42 years were arrested in the city.

All four were being held in police custody this evening.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA was their main line of inquiry.

“The New IRA, like most dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland, is small, largely unrepresentative, and determined to drag people back to somewhere they don’t want to be.”

He said at a press briefing today that this was a “significant attempt to kill people in the community”.

He said a pizza delivery man had his car hijacked shortly after 6pm by “at least two armed men”.

Between that time and 7.23pm, a bomb was placed in the vehicle and it was transported to around half a mile outside the courthouse on Bishop Street.

Around three minutes later, the Samaritans helpline in the West Midlands in England received a warning about the bomb. They immediately contacted West Midlands Police who contacted the PSNI. The PSNI managed to evacuate the surrounding area within 30 minutes of the car being left outside the courthouse.

“At approximately 20.09 the bomb detonated,” Assistant Chief Constable Hamilton continued.

“Fortunately it didn’t kill anybody and it didn’t cause widespread damage.

“It was a significant attempt to kill people in this community. This bomb was placed in a car and left here for the people of this community and the local police service to deal with.

“The local community and police service acted bravely.

“It detonated just as we were leaving the area. By good grace, local people weren’t killed.

“We had people socialising in the area, in the hotels, and this bomb was being moved through an area with people’s homes nearby.

“It was a highly crude device,” he continued.

“This was a callous act, a deliberate act against the people of Derry.

“It was a deliberate attempt to harm people.”

Police have condemned the attack as “unbelievably reckless” while representatives from across the political spectrum moved to condemn those responsible.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said this morning that they will update the media as they receive more information.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described the attack as “an appalling, reckless and cynical act of terror”.

“Violence to achieve political objectives has been rejected by the people of this island again and again. The Government condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he wishes to acknowledge the “good work and prompt response” from the PSNI.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney tweeted his disgust at the incident.

“I utterly condemn the car bomb terrorist attack in Derry this evening,” he said.

“There is no place and no justification possible for such acts of terror, which seek to drag Northern Ireland back to violence and conflict.”

Violent dissident republican groups have been responsible for a number of murders over the last 10 years.

They include the killing of Sappers Mark Quincey and Patrick Azimkar outside Massereene Barracks in Co Antrim in 2009 and PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Co Armagh in the same year as well as Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh in 2011.

Dissidents were also responsible for the murders of prison officers David Black in 2012 and Adrian Ismay in 2016.

There have also been a number of narrow misses, including the maiming of Constable Peadar Heffron in 2010, when an undercar booby trap bomb left him seriously injured.

It is estimated that the New IRA has carried out about 40 attacks in the years since it was formed in 2012.

Speaking soon after Saturday’s explosion, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton 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.”

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said those behind the bomb attack will not prevail.

“This attempt to disrupt progress in Northern Ireland has rightly been met with utter condemnation from all parts of the community.

“The small number of people responsible have absolutely nothing to offer Northern Ireland’s future and will not prevail.

“Our voices across the political spectrum are united. This is intolerable violence and we want to look forward and build a peaceful future for all in Northern Ireland.

“Thank you to the PSNI and emergency services who are working so hard to keep people safe and secure.”

Witnesses earlier said they heard a loud bang and saw a large plume of smoke.

Local residents, including those in a sheltered housing complex for elderly people, were evacuated.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said it was a “pointless act of terror” which “must be condemned in the strongest terms”.

“Only hurts the people of the City. Perpetrated by people with no regard for life,” she said.

“Grateful to our emergency services for their swift actions which helped ensure there have been no fatalities or injuries.

Derry’s SDLP mayor John Boyle challenged those responsible on what the aim was.

He said: “I would actually like to ask the people responsible for this what it actually was that they thought they were going to achieve.

“It achieves nothing, it didn’t achieve anything in the past, it didn’t achieve anything right now.

“This is the past and it has to stay in the past. We don’t want to see any more of it.”

Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion has condemned the explosion.

“This incident has shocked the local community,” she said. “In particular, there are many elderly residents who live in the area who have been alarmed.

“Thankfully no-one appears to have been injured.

“Derry is a city moving forward and no-one wants this type of incident. It is not representative of the city.

“I would encourage anyone with information about this incident to bring it to the police.”

Local SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan tweeted: “Whoever is responsible for this explosion outside Bishop Street Courthouse in Derry clearly hasn’t got the message that the people of Derry DO NOT want this on our streets.

“We are trying to move Derry forward and will not let anyone drag us back to the dark days of the past.”

Local Democratic Unionist MLA Gary Middleton condemned the incident as a “disgraceful act of terrorism”.

“PSNI have confirmed there were no injuries in the serious incident at Bishops Street,” he said.

“Vehicle hijacked with explosion outside courthouse. Disgraceful act of terrorism.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has also voiced her concern about the incident on Twitter, describing it as “very disturbing news”.

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