Belfast: A car bomb exploded outside a Northern Ireland court, police said, in an attack that one lawmaker attributed to republican dissidents.
There were no reports of casualties after the explosion Monday, which happened at around 10:30 pm (2230 GMT), half an hour after officers were alerted to a suspect vehicle outside the building in the city of Newry.
But the huge blast was heard two miles (three kilometres) away and is believed to have caused considerable damage. "Lives could have been lost," said one local lawmaker.
The car had been backed into the doors of the heavily-fortified court before it exploded. According to media reports, its gates were badly damaged.
"The police were still clearing the area at 10:30 pm when the bomb went off," a police spokesman said.
"There are no initial reports of injuries at this stage."
Danny Kennedy, a local lawmaker from the pro-British Ulster Unionist party, said republican dissidents had sent a warning about the device.
"A recognised code from dissidents accompanied a warning. It's likely there will be sizeable damage," said Kennedy, who was at the scene, where a helicopter hovered overhead and police kept people at a distance.
The court, which had been refurbished in the past decade, lise within walking distance of bars and restaurants.
Lawmaker Gary McKeown, who chairs the nationalist SDLP party in Newry, County Down, condemned the bombing.
"Lives could have been lost as a result of this bombing," he said.
"It serves absolutely no purpose and does nothing for the community or the cause of a united Ireland.
"If people want to advance their beliefs, then they should enter the democratic process and debate with their political opponents rather than resorting to violence," he added.
Northern Ireland endured around three decades of violence known as "The Troubles," which pitted Protestants in favour of British rule against Catholics who wanted to break away from Britain.
It is still wracked by occasional unrest. Monday's incident came just days after a mortar bomb was found abandoned outside a police station in a nearby village. It failed to detonate.
A Catholic police officer was seriously injured after a car bomb attack last month, and police stations have been shot at in recent weeks.
In September, army experts defused a massive roadside bomb near the border with the Irish Republic in South Armagh, averting what police said would have been a devastating explosion.
First Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 09:49