Terrified female bus driver forced to transport bomb
Dissident republicans have forced a terrified female bus driver to transport a bomb to a police station in Northern Ireland.
The viable device, attached to a two-hour timing unit, was left behind the driver's seat and was capable of causing death or serious injury, according to police.
Chief Superintendent Stephen Cargin said: "This was a reckless attack on the community."
A masked man boarded the bus in Londonderry's Ballymagroarty area just after last night's evening rush hour and demanded the driver take the bomb to the city's main police station at Strand Road.
He then ordered the 10 passengers off the bus and fled the scene.
Left alone with the bomb on board, the driver, who has been left traumatised by her ordeal, was forced to negotiate traffic congestion through a built-up housing estate.
She managed to abandon the bus in a place of relative safety a short distance away at Northlands Road before raising the alarm and has been praised for her courage.
Mr Cargin said: "To be prepared to put a bomb on a public bus, to put the lives of the driver and the passengers at risk and in the knowledge that it had to be driven through a built-up area is totally mindless."
The would-be bomber was dressed in a black jacket and used a black scarf and hood to hide his identity. Mr Cargin said he claimed to have been from the IRA.
"We believe this was one of the dissident groups," he said.
In the past, dissident extremists opposed to the peace process have hijacked private-hire taxis and threatened drivers to transport bombs, but it is understood this is the first time they have targeted a bus driver.
A spokeswoman for Translink, which operates the network, said the woman did not want to speak publicly about the incident.
She said: "In driving the bus to a safe place, our colleague displayed courage and professionalism.
"The driver is understandably distressed and is receiving all necessary support from Translink and colleagues."
Stormont Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has condemned those responsible.
He said: "Attacks on public transport impact the entire community, who depend on buses and trains to get to work, school, hospital and go about their daily business."
About 70 families from 40 houses in the Northlands area had to be evacuated while army bomb disposal teams worked to make the device safe.
The alert ended at about 3.30am today and residents were allowed to return home.
Mr Cargin said: "So many people had to be evacuated and were put to serious inconvenience for over nine hours. You have to question what these people were trying to achieve."
Details about the type of bomb have not been divulged although Mr Cargin described it as "small".
Strand Road Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) station has been the target of a number of bomb attempts, including thwarted mortar attacks in March and October.
SDLP councillor John Boyle said: "This latest incident in Derry was a source of real distress for the bus driver, passengers and people whose homes were evacuated on what was one of the coldest and blustery nights of the winter. Placing devices on public transport is disgraceful and entirely unacceptable."
A spokesman for the PSNI said the bomb had been removed for further tests and appealed for any witnesses to come forward.
He said: "Police would appeal to anyone who witnessed this incident or anyone with any information about the incident to contact detectives."
Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford described the attack as appalling and unjustified.
He said: "I call on those who were involved in planning this attempted attack, involving a viable explosive device, to explain to the community why they risked the lives of local people who were on the bus, including the driver who was serving that community.
"I expect that they will not respond because there can be no justification for this action or indeed any terrorist action."