March 28, 2011 / 11:35 AM / 7 years ago

Car bomb defused in Northern Ireland, nationalists blamed

BELFAST (Reuters) - British army experts defused a car bomb on Monday left by suspected dissident nationalists near a court in Londonderry, Nothern Ireland’s second-largest city.

Security officials in the British-controlled province are on high alert due to an upsurge in shootings and bombings targeting police officers and soldiers by nationalist splinter groups who want to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

“Anybody who was in the vicinity of it would have been killed and it would have caused devastation if it had gone off,” Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin said, describing the device as “substantial.”

“I have no doubt the bomb was planted by dissident Republicans. The threat from them has been listed as severe for over two years and in the past two weeks we have increased patrols here in the city.”

Several telephone warnings were given about the bomb including one to a nearby old people’s home, whose 40 residents were evacuated. Trials and hearings at the courthouse have been suspended.

Security officials have thwarted a number of attempted bomb attacks by the dissident groups but they are not seen as a fundamental threat to a 1998 peace process.

The peace deal ended three decades of conflict between predominantly Catholic nationalists and mainly Protestant unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Reporting by Ivan Little; editing by Carmel Crimmins and Michael Roddy

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