A bomb left beside a police officer’s car in Dungiven, Co Derry, was an attempt to kill “a three-year-old child and her mother,” the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said the improvised device, which was left placed directly beside where the child sits in the car, was designed to create a “fireball” which would have engulfed the vehicle and anyone near it.
A “strong line of inquiry” is that the dissident republican group the New IRA was responsible.
The member of police staff and part-time police officer discovered the suspicious object beside her car near her house on Ballyquin Road in Dungiven on Monday. It sparked a lengthy security operation, and British army experts later carried out a controlled explosion.
Speaking at a press conference after the details of the attack emerged on Tuesday, ACC McEwan said the “viable device” had been made of explosives attached to a container of flammable liquid.
The child’s car seat was in the vehicle and those planting the bomb would have been aware of it, he said, adding that the child was in the house when the bomb was discovered
“This demonstrates the complete and utter disregard for the life of a mother and her toddler. This simply beggars belief,” he said.
There was widespread condemnation of the attack across the political spectrum, with Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, describing it as a “horrific” attack on a “young mother attempting to go about her day’s work.”
Ms Foster said she had spoken to the off-duty officer who had been “incredibly brave... her concern was clearly for her young child, and understandably so - as a mother I totally understand that - but it is an incredible turn of events when cowards can visit this brave woman’s house in the middle of the night and leave a bomb at her back door,” she said.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was a “deeply reprehensible and cowardly attack” on a police officer’s home. “Politicians across this island must work together to avoid a return to the dark days of fear and terror,” he said.
The North’s Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, said the attempted murder of the police officer was “absolutely abhorrent”. “I completely condemn the actions of those involved,” he said, adding that “those who try to attack public servants have nothing to offer the communities they claim to represent.”
The North’s Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who also spoke to the officer, said she was still in shock and “the magnitude of what could have happened to both herself and her young family” had only begun to sink in.
“To those people that are responsible, they need to leave the stage, there is no room for you in society, you are not going to drag people back,” Ms O’Neill said.
The dissident republican group the New IRA has been responsible for a number of murders, including that of Lyra McKee in Derry in 2019, and attacks on police officers.
ACC McEwan appealed for anyone with information to come forward and said police would be “unrelenting in our efforts in bringing these people to justice.”
He said the New IRA was a group which had “shown complete disregard for young people and now we have another callous attack where a mother and a toddler were the potential victims.
“It’s time for people to examine their conscience. Is this the sort of group they want to support?”
The New IRA, he said, were “intent on targeting police officers”.
The chair of the representative body the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), Mark Lindsay, said it was “appalling” the officer had been singled out in this manner, and her dedication to serving the community was in “stark contrast to those involved in this attack, whose only purpose is to wreck lives”.
The attack was also condemned by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Steve Aiken, who said there must be “no hiding place for those who seek to murder police officers or use violence in pursuit of any political objectives”.
The DUP’s Assembly member in the area where the incident took place, George Robinson, said local DUP politicians had met with police twice in recent weeks to “highlight our concerns that dissident republicans were trying to exert their influence and recruit in the wider Roe Valley area”.
He said they had raised a concern that given that dissident republicans were being “heavily monitored” in Derry city, “they would attempt to extend their violent activities to this area and members of the police and security force family would be their targets”.
“Today’s events has reinforced our fears and turned them into reality,” he said.
SDLP MLA Cara Hunter also condemned the attack. “No one should have to live in fear of going to work,” she said. “Our officers protect our communities every day and keep them safe. My thoughts are with the officer and their families,” Ms Hunter said. - Additional reporting PA