Bank bombed as Queen ends Irish visit

A BOMB has exploded at a bank in Northern Ireland but caused no injuries, one day after Queen Elizabeth II ended an historic trip across the border in the Irish Republic.

The blast in a shopping district of Londonderry also comes ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ireland this week and amid a recent surge in unrest in British-ruled Northern Ireland blamed on dissident republicans.

Police said three masked men burst into the branch of Spanish-owned Santander bank with the bomb and told customers it would explode in one hour. The area was evacuated but police said it was not a controlled explosion.

“I have no doubt that the device was set to injure or maim innocent members of the public,” said Chief Inspector John Burrows of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The incident comes after the queen on Friday ended a four-day trip to the Republic of Ireland aimed at reconciliation following the peace established in Northern Ireland as a result of the 1998 Good Friday accord.

Protestant politicians who favour union with Britain united with Catholic republicans in condemning the bomb in the city, which is near the border with Ireland.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the people of the province had made it clear in elections in early May that they did not want to return to the “dark days of the past”.

“This bomb was deliberately placed in one of the busiest areas of the city and was designed to murder innocent people as they shopped on a Saturday afternoon,” he said.  “The perpetrators of this disgusting attack have no regard for human life.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of the republican Sinn Fein party and a former leading member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), said those behind the blast had no mandate.  “Those who carried it out need to realise that such an attack only hardens our resolve to ensure that peace survives and continues to flourish,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to Ireland this week was surrounded by a massive security operation amid threats from dissident republicans opposed to any British presence on Irish soil.

Ahead of her trip – the first by a British monarch since the Republic of Ireland gained independence in 1922 – police had received a coded bomb threat for London from Irish republicans.  A bomb was also found on a bus near Dublin hours before her arrival.

During the visit, the queen expressed regret and “deep sympathy” to the victims of Britain and Ireland’s turbulent shared history in a speech seen as setting a new tone in relations between the two countries.

Across the border in Northern Ireland, peace has held up relatively well since the 1998 peace accords signed between Catholics and Protestants which ended three decades of violence.

But the province was rocked last month after a Catholic Northern Ireland policeman was killed in a car bomb attack.

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