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Monday 15 July 2019

Just seconds from death: group of youths walked past car before 'almighty bang'

  • Shocking footage of Derry car bomb blast shows a group of young people walking past the vehicle just minutes before it explodes
  • New alert as van hijacked by masked men i the city
  • PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton condemns car bomb attack as 'unbelievably reckless'
  • Two further arrests made yesterday evening bringing the total number of those arrested to four
Shocking footage of the Derry car bomb blast shows a group of young people walking past the vehicle just minutes before it explodes
Shocking footage of the Derry car bomb blast shows a group of young people walking past the vehicle just minutes before it explodes
Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a group of young people walking past a car before it exploded outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Screengrab from CCTV footage dated issued by the PSNI shows a man fleeing the scene after parking the car outside courthouse in Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire

Leona O'Neill

Shocking footage of the Derry car bomb blast shows a group of young people walking past the vehicle just minutes before it explodes.

CCTV images show the bomber driving up to the Bishop Street courthouse and parking the car. Moments later he can be seen running down the street, his face hidden by a hood.

Cars and taxis pass the vehicle while a group of seven young people walk past it unaware of what is about to happen.

Just minutes later the massive bomb detonates, sending a huge fireball into the air and hurling debris all over the street.

A warning had been phoned in by the bombers to the Samaritans in England. This was then relayed to local police before being passed on to the PSNI.

Members of the PSNI had just minutes to evacuate the area - including a group of children who were attending a church youth club nearby.

Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton condemned those behind the attack, calling it "unbelievably reckless".

Derry was again on alert at Monday lunchtime amid reports of a vehicle hijacking in the area, just before 11.30am.

A white Transit van was reportedly hijacked by three masked men who threw an object in the back of it before abandoning it.

"We are now putting in place cordons in the area, and we anticipate significant disruption to the local community while we work to the make the scene safe," PSNI Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said.

Mr Hamilton earlier outlined how at at around 7.55pm on Saturday night, officers on patrol in Bishop Street spotted a suspicious vehicle and were making checks when, around five minutes later, information was received that a device had been left at the courthouse.

"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. The device detonated at 8.10pm."

Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Screengrab from CCTV footage issued by the PSNI showing a car bomb exploding outside the court house on Bishop Street, Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire

The vehicle used in the bombing had been hijacked by two men from a pizza delivery driver in the Bogside area of the city shortly after 6pm that evening.

Four men, aged from 20 to 42, have been arrested in connection with the investigation.

Mr Hamilton said: "Our main line of inquiry is against the New IRA. The New IRA, like most dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland, is small, largely unrepresentative and just determined to drag people back to where they don't want to be.

"There were a number of arrests in the early hours of Sunday morning here in the city, so this is primarily focused on local people in this city attacking their own city."

Two further arrests were made yesterday evening bringing the total number of those arrested to four.

Electrician Francis Gallagher was working in a nearby coffee shop and said the bomb shook the whole building.

"Myself and my partner had just sat down for a break and then there was this absolute almighty bang," he said.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton (right) condemned those behind the attack, calling it 'unbelievably reckless'. Photo: REUTERS
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton (right) condemned those behind the attack, calling it 'unbelievably reckless'. Photo: REUTERS

"The whole building shook. I said straight away to my partner that it must be a bomb, because I'd never heard anything so loud in my life.

"I'm not used to anything like this because I'm from Lancashire originally and I live in Donegal. It was really scary.

"I thought those days were over... that's why I moved back here."

Phillip Crossan was celebrating his birthday at a nearby hotel when the bomb exploded. "I remember that sound from many years ago, so I wasn't scared necessarily. The younger ones were more scared than I was, they wouldn't have been used to it," he said.

In a statement, dissident republican group Saoradh said the bomb attack marked 100 years since the first shots were fired in the War of Independence at Soloheadbeg.

Fears

There are now fears of a growing threat from dissidents on both sides of the Border as they seek to capitalise on a hard Brexit.

Senior anti-terrorist officers in the Garda and the PSNI believe there could be a new surge of violence from dissidents this year.

Several key figures in the dissident groups are due for release from prison in the coming months and they are expected to influence a re-organisation as they focus on the fall-out from Brexit.

A hard Border could potentially open up opportunities for them to recruit members and fundraise through smuggling and other criminal activities.

Most of the main groups in the Republic are currently leaderless and their hierarchy structures have collapsed because gardaí have put leading terrorists behind bars. However, they may now seek to regroup.

Last night it emerged that UK Prime Minister Theresa May is to propose an amendment to the Good Friday Agreement to avoid having to commit to the backstop. British ministers believe that adding text into the agreement would serve as a way of avoiding the controversial backstop.

Meanwhile, in comments that will be welcomed by Dublin, Labour MP Keir Starmer indicated his party is open-minded on the backstop.

He said that while there are problems with it, the chances now of a deal that does not include it are "very slim".

The detonation of the car bomb outside a courthouse in Derry on Saturday evening has brought into sharp relief the threat posed to the peace process by a hard Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 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.

The dissident republican group the New IRA is believed to be behind the bombing which saw hundreds of people, including a large number of children attending a church youth group, evacuated from the surrounding area.

The New IRA, formed in 2012, poses the biggest threat from dissident republicans since the Provisional IRA, according to an assessment by the head of the Garda intelligence and security section, Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan. That assessment is shared by the PSNI, which is also seriously concerned about the impact of a hard Brexit.

Attempts were made by several dissident groups, including the New IRA and the Real IRA, to find an overall leader, who could unite the terrorists into one cohesive unit but the talks foundered when agreement could not be reached.

However, the Brexit outcome and the prison releases are likely to be major factors as these groups regroup.

Although the Derry car bomb device has been described as crude, the New IRA's bomb-making skills are considered more advanced than those of other groups.

It has also been finding new sources of explosives and weapons and is continuing to recruit personnel, not previously known by gardaí or the PSNI to have been involved in renegade republican activities.

During 2016 and 2017, gardaí seized 100kg of explosive, nine AK-47 rifles, a sub-machine gun and a sniper rifle from dissidents.

As a result of a build-up in non-jury cases, a second special criminal court was opened, something not seen during three decades of Provisional IRA terror.

The New IRA has more than 50 activists, all of whom are listed as persons of interest to the Garda security and intelligence section.

It is estimated to have about 200 supporters, providing logistical help such as providing vehicles and safe houses.

The group has strongholds in Armagh, Belfast, Dublin, Derry-Donegal, Newry, Louth and Tyrone.

Irish Independent

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