Three masked men carrying a bomb burst into a bank in the North today and warned terrified customers it would explode in an hour.
Fortunately, nobody was injured as police had evacuated the area before the device exploded at the Santander branch in a busy Londonderry shopping street.
The attack has been linked to dissident republicans and comes the day after the Queen ended a four-day state visit to the Republic amid heavy security.
Police Service of Northern Ireland chief inspector John Burrows said: “I have no doubt that the device was set to injure or maim innocent members of the public.”
Police said the incident in Shipquay Street ruined a children’s charity fund-raising event being held in the area.
The city was brought to a standstill following the alert, which began just before midday when the men ran into the building with a bag. They told those inside they had a bomb which would explode in an hour. It ignited at 1.20pm, police said.
Ch Insp Burrows said the cost of lost business to the city’s traders would run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“This despicable act has been a costly day for traders on the busiest day of the week,” he added.
This is the latest of a string of attacks by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process. Derry’s main police station has been targeted and an off-duty policeman was shot outside a school in the city.
The North has been on high alert for dissident republican attack for some time.
Last month Constable Ronan Kerr, 25, died when a booby trap device exploded under his car in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
There have been a series of attacks on police officers and police stations in the North West.
One of the worst atrocities of the conflict happened in 1998 in Omagh when a car bomb attack on a court house on a busy Saturday killed 29 people.
Dissident republicans have also tried to attack the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast and several police stations.
DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said: “The perpetrators of this disgusting attack have no regard for human life. Indeed if it were not for the vigilance of the security forces we could have been faced with a far greater tragedy this afternoon.”
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness added: “This afternoon’s attack in the centre of Derry was carried out by people who have no mandate from anyone. Those who carried it out need to realise that such an attack only hardens our resolve to ensure that peace survives and continues to flourish.”
Sinn Féin Stormont Assembly member Martina Anderson said a loud thud could be heard when the device exploded.
Justice Minister David Ford said: “This bomb was left in the centre of a shopping area on a Saturday afternoon as people were going about their normal business. It is an attack on the local community and I condemn it wholeheartedly.”
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan also condemned the attackers.
In 2007 an off-duty Catholic officer was dropping off his child at the Lumen Christi grammar school in Derry when he was hit by a shotgun.
He was ambushed at Bishop St, near the centre of the city, when he pulled up in his car as hundreds of pupils arrived for classes.
The Catholic officer, aged 43 and from the mainly republican Bogside district of the city, was hit in the face and arm but managed to drive off, raising the alarm at a nearby police station.
Last summer, 200 pounds of homemade explosives were used in an attack on Strand Road police station.