Blast as Belfast takes power
Belfast - A car bomb exploded near the headquarters of Britain's MI5 domestic security agency in Northern Ireland on Monday, police said, coinciding with the completion of a key stage in a peace process.
Nobody was seriously hurt in the blast but the timing was symbolic, just minutes after the devolved power-sharing administration in Belfast resumed control over policing and justice for the first time in 38 years.
"A device has exploded in a vehicle at the rear of Palace Barracks in Holywood," a police spokesperson said, adding that the blast occurred shortly after midnight local time on Sunday.
The barracks is a former British army complex just outside Belfast and now houses hundreds of employees of MI5, the agency responsible for monitoring paramilitary behaviour in the province.
"There are no reports of any serious injuries at this stage," the police spokesperson added, although Basil McCrea, a member of the Policing Board, said an elderly man had been taken to hospital after being "blown off his feet".
Security services later confirmed the bomb was in a hijacked taxi, which was driven to the rear of the barracks. The driver then jumped from the car, shouting: "It's a bomb."
A number of houses in the area were evacuated and residents moved to a local community centre, police said.
Dissident republicans usually blamed
Local journalist Brian Rowan said the explosion "shook my front door". "It appears that the seat of the explosion was on the opposite side of the complex in a lay-by on Old Holywood Road. The security services have sealed off a stretch of the road covering several miles," he said.
Northern Ireland endured three decades of civil strife between Catholics who wanted the province to become part of the Republic of Ireland and Protestants who wanted to stay within the United Kingdom.
The violence largely ended with the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, which paved the way for the current power-sharing administration between the Protestant DUP and the Catholic Sinn Fein parties.
The main paramilitary groups including the Irish Republican Army (IRA) have laid down their arms, but sporadic violence still plagues the province, including the killing of two British soldiers and a police officer last year.
Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process are usually blamed.
Sensitive issue resolved
Local lawmaker Naomi Long, deputy leader of the cross-party Alliance party, condemned Monday's car bombing.
"I would utterly condemn any such attack and am sure that the vast majority of people from across our community are sickened by the actions of people who seem intent on dragging Northern Ireland back into the past," she said.
The policing and justice powers were transferred from London to Belfast at midnight, resolving one of the most sensitive issues here.
Britain seized control of policing and justice from Northern Ireland's local ministers in 1972, at the height of the violence known as "The Troubles", in a bid to control the worsening security situation.
But it prompted the fall of the devolved administration and London retained control throughout the conflict, in which more than 3 500 people died.
When lawmakers approved the power transfer deal last month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed it as the "final end" to decades of strife.
Alliance leader David Ford is widely expected to be selected as the new justice minister in a vote by lawmakers later on Monday.