Political leaders condemn Northern Ireland car bombing

BELFAST Tue Feb 23, 2010 8:24pm GMT

1 of 3. Forensic officers examine the remains of an exploded car bomb outside Newry Courthouse in Newry, Northern Ireland, February 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

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BELFAST (Reuters) - Irish and British politicians on Tuesday condemned a car bomb attack outside a Northern Irish courthouse some two weeks after a deal on policing the province secured the future of its fragile power-sharing executive.

The bomb, containing what police estimated to be 250 pounds (115 kg) of explosives, caused extensive damage when it exploded outside the court in the border town of Newry Monday.

Nobody was hurt in the bombing, the latest of increasingly frequent attacks in Northern Ireland and the first such device to be successfully detonated there in a decade.

"The people who carried out this attack are determined to destroy all that has been achieved in recent months. Their sole aim is to return Northern Ireland to its darkest past," Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said in a statement.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said the attack could not be justified and a spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said a tiny minority would not be allowed to hurt the peace process.

Police had evacuated the area following a tip off but Northern Ireland's police chief Matt Baggott said it was a miracle no one was killed.

Just over two weeks ago, a deal was reached between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the nationalist Sinn Fein to fully move policing powers to Belfast from London. Sinn Fein believes in a united Ireland while the DUP wants Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain.

MORE FREQUENT ATTACKS

Attacks, often aimed at police, have become more frequent since nationalist splinter groups killed two soldiers in March 2009 at an army barracks in County Antrim, northwest of Belfast, and killed a police officer a day later.

Most analysts agree the dissident republicans do not pose a fundamental threat to a 1998 peace deal that largely ended three decades of conflict that cost over 3,600 lives.

Baggott urged people to isolate these small groups.

"This is a minority of people, they are living in a very lonely world of violence. They are attacking their own Irish men, Irish women and Irish children, that cannot be right," he told a news conference.

He said the bombers phoned a 30-minute warning to a local hospital but that staff were still being evacuated from the area when the device exploded 17 minutes later, an inaccuracy that was "reckless at least and callous at worst."

The last car bomb to explode in the province was outside a police station in County Tyrone in 2000, although smaller bombs have been successfully detonated.

A car bomb attack in the Tyrone town of Omagh killed 29 people in the worst single attack of the conflict in 1998.

(Editing by Padraic Halpin and Charles Dick)

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