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Wednesday 24 January 2018

PSNI chief warns dissident bombers determined to kill

Steven McCaffery

It is only a matter of time before dissident republicans responsible for a string of bomb attacks claim another victim, a senior PSNI officer warned last night.

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris hit out after members of the public narrowly escaped injury when a car bomb exploded outside a police station in Derry city yesterday.

A taxi driver had been hijacked in the city and forced to drive his car to the station after a device containing 200lb of homemade explosive was loaded on board.

The two armed dissidents had hailed the taxi in Cooke Street and held a gun to the cab driver's head, forcing him to carry the bomb in his boot and drive to the police station.

But the hero driver made sure he alerted the police there was a bomb before the blast went off.

A telephoned bomb warning from the dissident Real IRA group told police the device would go off in 45 minutes, but it detonated in half that time while the area surrounding Strand Road station was still being evacuated.

While senior politicians condemned the attack, Mr Harris said it was a miracle no one was injured when the device exploded at 3.20am.

"A substantial device was delivered in a hijacked taxi, which had been taken earlier in the evening -- a substantial device, which has caused damage to the station but quite substantial damage also to other properties," said Mr Harris, who is also the head of crime operations for the PSNI. "Again we have been very lucky there hasn't been casualties or fatalities in this type of reckless attack. The warning times are insufficient to ensure safe clearance and we have to be very concerned that it's only a matter of time before people are very seriously injured or even indeed killed in these types of murderous attacks."

He said the dissident threat remained high, with 30 attacks recorded so far this year. But the senior officer said police had made 147 arrests in 2010, resulting in 38 charges, compared with 19 charges last year.

He added: "A major investigation team will be dealing with this investigation and carry it forward and that is to ensure that every evidential opportunity is pursued."

Police said two men, one armed with a gun, hijacked the taxi driver shortly before 3am. The bomb was loaded into his car and he was forced to drive to the police station. Officers were evacuating the area when the device exploded.

Damage was caused to the heavily fortified station, plus surrounding buildings including a nursing home and apartments.

The attack comes weeks after Derry was boosted by the positive response to the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday and after it was named UK City of Culture.

Deputy First Minister and Derry representative Martin McGuinness said the dissidents behind the attack were out of step with the people of Ireland.

"This is a futile and cynical attempt to try to take us back to conflict and division. We will not allow them to do so," he said.

Irish Independent

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