World / Crime & Legal

Two more van hijackings hit Northern Ireland city as fifth man arrested over car bombing

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Two vans were hijacked in Londonderry on Monday, police said, two days after the Northern Irish city saw a car bombing involving a stolen car in an attack pinned on a dissident paramilitary group.

A bomb in a hijacked car blew up outside the courthouse in the border city on Saturday following a telephoned warning.

There were no casualties and politicians on all sides condemned the attack, which has heightened concerns about the uncertainty surrounding Brexit disrupting a hard-won peace in the U.K. province.

On Monday, two further hijackings took place, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Three masked men hijacked a cargo van at around 11:30 a.m. (1130 GMT), according to police, before abandoning it. A controlled explosion was carried out on the vehicle. Nearby homes were evacuated.

Then at around 1:45 p.m. (1345 GMT), police received a report that a delivery driver’s van had been hijacked in another part of Northern Ireland’s second city by four masked men, one of whom was reported to have a gun.

The two occupants of the van were ordered to drive it to a particular road and leave it there, the police said.

“We are in the process of implementing a public safety operation, establishing cordons and evacuating a number of homes,” said Superintendent Gordon McCalmont.

Meanwhile a fifth man has been arrested in connection with Saturday’s blast.

Police said they had arrested a 50-year-old man under the Terrorism Act as part of their investigation.

On Sunday police arrested four men — two 21-year-olds, a 34-year-old and a 42-year-old.

Police have said they believe a paramilitary group calling itself the New IRA was behind Saturday’s blast.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA (Irish Republican Army) group has mainly been linked to vigilante incidents and that the bombing was “probably the most significant attack in recent years.

“We haven’t seen a device of this nature function for quite a while. It’s a high-risk tactic,” he told BBC Radio.

A 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland between republican and unionist paramilitaries, as well as U.K. armed forces, in a period known as the troubles.

Some 3,500 people were killed in the conflict — many at the hands of the IRA.

Hamilton said Sunday that the New IRA were “determined to drag people back to somewhere they don’t want to be.”

There are concerns the attack could be a sign of paramilitaries seeking to exploit the current political turbulence over Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland, caused by Brexit.

“Dissident bomb fuels fear of return to terror after Brexit,” ran a headline on Monday’s Irish Independent.

“Incidents such as the Derry bombing remind us that the danger of a ‘hard’ or visible border would really be a target for these mindless yobs who want to haul us all back to our recent dark past,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

“This danger must galvanize all our political leaders to do everything they possibly can to avoid such a possibility.”

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph late Sunday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is considering addressing a current deadlock over Brexit by amending the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the violence in Northern Ireland, after ditching attempts to negotiate a cross-party deal.

But speaking in Parliament on the incidents in Londonderry, May said the whole house would join her in condemning Saturday’s attack and praising the bravery of the police in getting people to safety.

“This house stands together with the people of Northern Ireland in ensuring that we never go back to the violence and terror of the past,” she said.

The explosion has been condemned by political parties across the traditional republican and unionist divide in the province, as well as by leaders in the Republic of Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it “an appalling, reckless and cynical act of terror.”