Dissident republicans were blamed for a car bomb attack at a court in the North last night.
Police said it was a ’miracle’ no one was injured in the explosion outside Newry courthouse in Co Down shortly after 10.30pm.
The main gates were badly damaged in the explosion, which was within walking distance of restaurants and bars.
Police were still evacuating the scene when it detonated.
Two coded bomb warnings were received at a local hospital and business around 30 minutes before the device went off
Police Service of Northern Ireland area commander Chief Inspector Sam Cordiner condemned those responsible.
“It is only by sheer miracle that nobody was killed or injured,” he said.
The vehicle was reversed into the security gates of the court before being abandoned.
The area remained cordoned off early this morning as Army bomb disposal experts checked for other devices.
MP for the area, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy heard the blast while in his home more than four miles way.
“We can only be thankful that at this stage it appears nobody has been injured,” he said at the scene.
“The people responsible have absolutely nothing to offer the community except the prospect of a return to the past.
“A lot of good people have worked long and hard to develop Newry over the last 10 years and this will be a major blow to the city. The community will be despairing tonight but they will be determined not to let this beat them.”
The car bombing is the latest in a string of attacks by a minority of violent republican extremists intent on destabilising the peace process.
It came only three days after a failed mortar bomb attack at a police station in the nearby village of Keady, Co Armagh and weeks after the region’s main political parties – Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists – struck a landmark deal on policing devolution that saved the fragile powersharing executive from possible collapse.
Last March, dissidents gunned down two soldiers at Massereene army barracks, Antrim. Two days later they shot dead police constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Co Armagh as he answered a call for help.
In January this year a Catholic police officer was seriously injured when a booby trap bomb exploded under his car in Co Antrim while a number of police stations have been shot at in recent weeks.
Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said: “This is an act of senseless violence by a small handful of people who refuse to accept the people’s overwhelming support for the peace process.
“The best message that could be sent to them is a powerful rejection of violence through the completion of devolution.
“On March 9 Northern Ireland’s politicians in the assembly can send the unanimous message in the cross community vote, politics is the way forward and that the small number of dissident criminals will never be given the opportunity to turn back the success of the peace process.”
Democratic Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Peter Weir said the dissidents represented no right minded individuals.
“The shocking news of the car bomb tonight outside Newry Courthouse is a reminder of the depravity and cruel disregard for human life of dissident republicans,” he said.
“These people care little for human life in their evil quest to drag us back to the past. It is both a reminder of the serious threat that they continue to pose, and of the need to continue to make political progress and continue to build a stable Northern Ireland. These people have no mandate and represent only a commitment to a terrorist past that we had all hoped to leave behind in Northern Ireland.
“Government must take a tough stance against these violent dinosaurs, and continue to commit every resource necessary in the fight against these evil people.
“Dissidents are also clearly threatened by the political progress made at Hillsborough, and it is vital that we isolate them by all parties showing leadership by backing a progressive way forward. It is also vital that the community as a whole help stamp out their activities once and for all by giving the police full co-operation and information on this terrible crime.”
SDLP Assembly member for the area Dominic Bradley, who lives only two miles from the blast site, condemned the bombers.
“We could easily have been looking at serious casualties or worse this evening and it is no credit at all to the bombers that as far as is known there were no injuries,” he said.
“People are saying that they got enough of this sort of thing during the Provo (Provisional IRA) campaign, it was wrong and senseless then and it is wrong now.
“They are very angry and they want the people responsible taken out of circulation and brought to justice.”
Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy said: “It’s a mercy and miracle there were no injuries or lives lost, either security force members, court service staff or local residents.”
The Newry and Armagh MLA said the attack was evidence of a deteriorating security situation and called for a harder line police approach.
“The softly, softly approach taken by police in nationalist and republican areas clearly isn’t working because dissident republicans are filling that policing vacuum,” said Mr Kennedy.