Car bomb linked to dissident group 'the New IRA'
The group has warned it would exploit Brexit chaos
The car bomb that exploded near the courthouse in Derry has been linked to a dissident group the New IRA.
Speculation has mounted overnight that the explosion was planned by the group of dissident republicans, who have made no secret of their desire to exploit the fallout from Brexit.
It is understood PSNI officers were only given a 15 minute warning to evacuated the area before the bomb went off.
Police said that at around 7.55pm on Saturday night officers on patrol in Bishop Street spotted a suspicious vehicle.
The officers were making checks when information was received that a device had been left at the courthouse.
Police condemned the attack as "unbelievably reckless" while representatives from across the political spectrum moved to condemn those responsible.
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 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.
"The device detonated at 8.10pm. At this stage it appears as though the vehicle used had been hijacked from a delivery driver in the Quarry Street a short time before the explosion.
"The people responsible for this attack have shown no regard for the community or local businesses.
"They care little about the damage to the area and the disruption they have caused."
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".