Belfast Telegraph

Derry families return to homes after hijacked vehicles cause security alerts

Day of alerts in Londonderry after dissidents hijack three vans

By Leona O'Neill

The security alerts which forced the evacuation of properties in Londonderry yesterday have been declared hoaxes.

The city was placed on high alert after three separate van hijackings sparked security operations less than 48 hours after a car bomb exploded outside the city's courthouse.

They came as a fifth man was arrested by detectives investigating the blast in Bishop Street.

Four men held by police earlier were last night released unconditionally.

Last night police and Army bomb disposal experts responded after an Asda van was abandoned on Northland Road close to the Glenbank Road junction and St Mary's College.

Around 40 people - mainly pensioners - were evacuated from their homes.

In yesterday's first hijacking, which happened on Creggan's Circular Road at 11.30am, three masked men threw an object into the back of a white Transit van and told the driver to take it to the city centre.

However, the vehicle was abandoned.

Families evacuated from their homes were cared for in the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership building on Central Drive or travelled to stay with family elsewhere.

In the second incident at around 1.45pm four masked men, one of whom is believed to have had a gun, hijacked a Royal Mail van and ordered the driver to take it to Lonemoor Road.

It was abandoned in the middle of Southway, near pensioners' bungalows.

Up to 50 families were evacuated from their homes during the earlier security operations, but were allowed back late last night.

The incidents caused traffic chaos in the area.

Several controlled explosions were carried out on the first two abandoned vehicles.

Creggan mother Aoife Wade said the alerts caused severe disruption.

"I left to pick up my son from school and when I came back home with him I couldn't get back into my house because it was all cordoned off," she said. "I'm over in my mum's with my two little cousins as their mum couldn't get out of her house to collect them from school, either. It happened to so many today. It's bloody awful. I'm angry and annoyed."

On Saturday evening masked men believed to be aligned to the New IRA dissident republican group hijacked a pizza delivery van in Derry, packed it with explosives and abandoned it outside the court building in Bishop Street.

Yesterday, police arrested a 50-year-old man under the Terrorism Act in connection with the attack and also an armed robbery in Meadowbank Avenue on January 15.

The attack was condemned by Theresa May in the House of Commons yesterday.

"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.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley told MPs that the weekend bomb blast on Bishop Street had "absolutely nothing to do with Brexit".

"Nobody should try and draw any connection between what happened on Saturday night and any of the discussions we are having in this place or with our friends in Europe. The attack that happened on Saturday night is a result of a threat level that has been in place since before the Brexit vote," she said.

"These are plots and activities that these people have been working on and trying to carry out for many, many years and we need to be clear with them that those activities are not welcome. The people of Northern Ireland do not want to see this kind of activity on their streets."

Speaking after the latest security alerts, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "The PSNI needs our full support to remove those responsible from our streets.

"Bombs in the Seventies and Eighties brought nothing but hardship, so will these. We will not be dragged back."

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said the attacks were "illogical".

"This incident is yet another major disruption for residents in the Creggan area, on top of the disruption and destruction that was caused in the city centre over the weekend," he said.

"The only people suffering here are local people. These attacks are as illogical as they are unacceptable."

Sinn Fein's Karen Mullan hit out at the disruption to the community. "It is shocking that our community is being held to ransom and put in danger in this manner today," she said.

Meanwhile, the wreckage of the bombed car used in the Bishop Street attack was last night removed from Bishop Street and the area was opened to traffic again.

Belfast Telegraph

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