IRA dissidents force cabbie to drive bomb to Londonderry police base; no one wounded in blast
DUBLIN – DUBLIN (AP) — Irish Republican Army dissidents detonated a bomb in a hijacked taxi Tuesday outside a police base in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, damaging buildings but wounding no one despite the attackers' inaccurate warning, police said.
It was the fifth car bomb planted this year by IRA splinter groups trying to undermine Northern Ireland's 3-year-old government coalition of British Protestants and Irish Catholics. Dissidents also fired a homemade mortar shell at the same Londonderry police station in May but it failed to detonate.
None of those attacks since February — targeting police stations, a courthouse and the British spy agency MI5 — has injured anyone seriously.
Londonderry's police commander, Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin, said two masked men ordered a cabbie at gunpoint to drive into the city's Bogside district — a traditional IRA power base — shortly before 3 a.m. (0200GMT). There they loaded a bomb into the car's trunk.
"They repeatedly pointed a gun at him and warned him, if he did not do as they instructed, he would be shot," Martin said.
He said the cabbie parked his car outside Strand Road police station, the city's police headquarters just north of the Bogside, and the gunmen ran away. The driver then warned police he'd been forced to park a bomb outside.
Martin said police almost simultaneously received a coded telephone warning from IRA dissidents warning that the bomb would detonate 45 minutes later. However, he said, it exploded less than 23 minutes later while officers were still evacuating nearby night spots and rousing people from their beds in nearby apartments.
The blast destroyed the vehicle but caused little damage to the police base, which has bullet-proof windows and a car-bomb barrier around its perimeter. Heavier damage was caused to fast-food outlets across the street. They had windows and fixtures destroyed.
Tuesday's device was much smaller than a typical IRA car bomb. Police said the attackers lifted it by hand into the trunk of the hijacked vehicle. Full-fledged IRA car bombs contain several hundred pounds of explosives packed into the entire rear of the vehicle.
Brian Rea, chairman of a Catholic-Protestant civilian board that oversees the police, denounced the IRA dissidents as "people who have no regard for human life and are only interested in causing maximum disruption and devastation to our community."
Londonderry Mayor Colm Eastwood said the dissidents' inaccurate warning could have ended in multiple deaths if the bomb had been bigger.
"Police didn't even have time to evacuate a nursing home or apartments right beside the police station," he said.
Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that today is the major Irish-nationalist member of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, said the dissidents stood no chance of achieving the traditional IRA goal of forcing Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.