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IRA dissident car bomb hits Londonderry businesses

DUBLIN — A dissident Irish Republican Army car bomb damaged a hotel, bank and other businesses but caused no injuries Tuesday in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, the sixth such attack this year in the British territory.

Analysts said the middle-of-the-night blast — which blew out window frames and glass in several buildings, doing particular damage to the bank — appeared to have been timed to undermine the city’s major Sinn Fein politician, Martin McGuinness.

McGuinness, who is also the senior Catholic in Northern Ireland’s cross-community government, was attending the annual conference Tuesday of the ruling Conservative Party — long a target for IRA violence before the outlawed group’s 1997 cease-fire.

McGuinness, a former IRA commander himself, condemned the dissidents as violence addicts and political cavemen.

“These conflict junkies are attempting to drive a city living very much for the future, back to the past,” McGuinness said at the Conservative gathering in Birmingham, England. “People … are horrified that there are still these Neanderthals within our society.”

The Real IRA splinter group later claimed responsibility for the attack in a coded telephone call to the news desk of a city newspaper, the Derry Journal.

The dissidents telephoned warnings to local businesses, giving the police about an hour to evacuate the area — including a nursing home — before the explosion.

Londonderry Mayor Colm Eastwood said he was on the scene when the bomb detonated.

“The car’s spare tire landed about 10 yards away from me,” Eastwood said.

“I don’t know what these people are trying to achieve,” he said of the dissidents, who operate from Londonderry’s working-class Catholic districts. “This city will not be defeated by a minority of people who think they’ll free Ireland by bombing hotels.”

Analysts said the Real IRA may have targeted the hotel, in part, because it is hosting a meeting later this week between local politicians and police officers in Londonderry, a predominantly Catholic city.

Building cooperation between the traditionally Protestant police force and Catholic leaders is a central goal of peacemaking. Dissidents have repeatedly sought to harm the effort by trying to kill Catholic officers and police-liaison officials and by offering themselves as a source of vigilante justice in the roughest Catholic areas, where residents still feel communal pressure not to talk to police.

The governments of Britain and Ireland denounced the bombers.