Heroic driver took suspected bomb on board his lorry to a safe site away from houses
A delivery driver has been hailed a hero after he drove a suspected bomb away from a built-up housing area when his vehicle was hijacked by masked terrorists.
Two men approached the lorry and threatened the driver, ordering him to take a wheelie bin – which they claimed had a bomb inside – to Strand Road police station in Londonderry.
Police sources have suggested that the hijacking may have been retaliation for four arrests in Derry hours earlier in connection with a New IRA letter-bomb campaign.
The driver had been delivering furniture shortly after noon at Ederowen Park in the heavily populated Galliagh area of the city. It is understood the masked men told the driver they knew where he lived and warned that his family was at risk.
Despite the threats, the courageous man stopped the vehicle approximately one mile away on the Buncrana Road, opposite the gates of St Columb's College, and a huge security operation got under way.
The lorry was brought to a halt alongside sports pitches, with a police source saying it was believed this was to minimise any threat posed to residents.
While there were no children at the school, staff had been on the site preparing for the release of GCSE results this morning.
People were evacuated from the school and a number of nearby businesses in Pennyburn Industrial Estate.
Residents in a small housing development were ordered to remain indoors while an Army bomb disposal team examined the lorry.
They later declared it a hoax and the busy route was reopened to traffic last night after hours of serious disruption.
Dissident republicans are believed to have been behind the incident, although no group had come forward to admit responsibility as yet.
PSNI Foyle area commander Chief Inspector Tony Callaghan said: "This was undoubtedly a frightening experience for the lorry driver. Today a man was going about his normal day-to-day work when he was confronted by masked men and ordered to drive with what he was told was a bomb to the police station."
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood said those responsible for the hoax attack were "mindless thugs devoted to terror".
And he hailed the bravery of the driver, who is employed by a well-known furniture company.
"Our city has made tremendous strides towards a bright future and such acts of attempted destruction will be viewed with utter revulsion by all right-thinking people," added Mr Eastwood.
Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, said the threat from dissident groups remained severe.
"We are determined that terrorism will not succeed, but there is a quid pro quo here – the Government have to ensure that we have the resources and they are failing us," he said.
The Ulster Unionist Party's Foyle constituency chairman Ronnie McKeegan condemned those responsible for yesterday's incident. "Once again masked men have set out to impose themselves on our city and in the process have created disruption to the daily lives of many innocent people" he said.
In November a bus was hijacked in similar circumstances and its female driver ordered to transport a bomb to Strand Road police station. The viable device, attached to a two-hour timing unit, was left behind the driver's seat. The driver, who was left traumatised by her ordeal, was forced to negotiate traffic congestion through a housing estate, but she managed to abandon the bus in a place of relative safety.