Bomb explodes outside Northern Ireland shopping centre

A BOMB planted in a car exploded outside a shopping centre in the Northern Irish city of Londonderry today, causing substantial damage but no injuries.

The blast occurred just after midnight local time outside a bank in Londonderry and follows a series of recent attacks blamed on dissident republicans seeking to undermine hard-won peace in the British province.

“Shortly after midnight a device in a Corsa car exploded outside a bank at the rear of the DaVinci retail complex” in the city, said a spokesman from the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“A warning had been received just over an hour earlier and a cordon was in place.

“Initial inquiries suggest there were no injuries. Substantial damage has been caused to the retail complex and to the car.”

Evacuations had been carried out in the surrounding area from dozens of houses and a number of businesses, said the spokesman, adding there would be severe disruption to traffic in the area.

The blast will evoke memories of darker times in Londonderry, which witnessed much bloodshed and suffering during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, as the three decades of civil unrest in the province are known.

It was the scene of Bloody Sunday, one of Northern Ireland’s darkest episodes in which 13 civilians were killed by British soldiers when they opened fire on a civil rights march in 1972.

The blast Tuesday follows a spate of attacks several weeks ago which targeted army or police workers.

Republic groups were blamed for a series of car bombings or attempted car bombings in August which targeted an army major, a policewoman and a civilian police worker.

Authorities said three children had a miraculous escape when they sustained only minor injuries when a bomb exploded in a bin in Lurgan, County Armagh, in August.

Police said the attack had been an attempt to kill or injure their officers.

Although no one has been killed in the attacks, they have fuelled fears of a return to the darkest times of Northern Ireland’s troubles.

The troubles pitched Catholic republicans, opposed to British rule, against Protestants, who favoured being governed from London, and left some 3,500 people dead.

The violence was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal but sporadic unrest still flares in the province.

Last month, British security services raised the threat level from Northern Ireland-related terrorism to suggest an attack was now a “strong possibility,” Home Secretary Theresa May announced.

It was the first time the government had published its assessment of the threat posed by Irish-related extremists to Britain, although the threat has been made public since August 2006.

Separately, the head of Britain’s domestic security service MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned recently that extremists opposed to the peace process in Belfast could launch fresh attacks on the mainland.

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