Derry car bomb: four men being held for questioning by PSNI

Security sources concerned about potential for further violence in event of hard border

A major police investigation is continuing in Derry after a car bomb exploded outside the city’s courthouse on Saturday night.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said its main line of inquiry was that the dissident republican group the New IRA was responsible.

Four men – two in their 20s, a 34-year-old and a 42-year-old – were arrested and were being questioned on Sunday night by police.

Nobody was injured in the attack, which happened on Bishop Street at about 8.10pm. CCTV footage shows the car being abandoned outside the courthouse and a figure dressed in black running away. Armed and masked men had earlier hijacked the car, a Ford Fusion, from a pizza delivery driver in the Brandywell area of the city.

A bomb – described by police as a “crude and unstable device” – was put into the car and driven for half a mile through the city to the courthouse. The driver abandoned the car and ran off in the direction of the Bogside.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the car was abandoned at about 7.23pm, and that shortly afterwards a call was received by the Samaritans in the English West Midlands warning of the car bomb.

That call was passed on to West Midlands police, who then passed it on to the PSNI. A patrol had already spotted the vehicle and had begun to evacuate the area. The bomb exploded at 8.09pm.

People evacuated

PSNI officers cut gates at the back of a youth club to allow 150 people – who were taking part in a charity quiz – to escape from the building on to the city’s walls. Other people were instructed to close doors and to move to the back of buildings.

A group of young people were recorded on CCTV making their way past the bomb about 20 minutes before it exploded.

In a statement, the dissident republican political party Saoradh linked the attack to the 100th anniversary of the Soloheadbeg ambush, which marked the beginning of the War of Independence.

The attack has been widely condemned. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley said it had “rightly been met with utter condemnation from all parts of the community”.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said there was “no place and no justification possible for such acts of terror, which seek to drag Northern Ireland back to violence and conflict”.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the attack had been carried out against the people of Derry but also against communities across the island of Ireland who had enjoyed the results of the peace process for many years.

Security sources said the attack was a reminder of the continued threat from dissident republicans and voiced concern about the risk of further attacks if a hard border was introduced under Brexit.