DUBLIN (AP) — A firebomb detonated Friday in a hotel lobby in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, but police said a swift midnight evacuation ensured that nobody was injured.
The incendiary device detonated inside the Everglades Hotel in Northern Ireland's second-largest city. Witnesses said a masked man tossed a bag beside the hotel's reception desk, said he was from the Irish Republican Army, and warned that a bomb inside the bag would explode in 30 minutes.
"Someone set off the fire alarm and I called the police," said Gary Rutherford, who had just dropped off relatives at the hotel. "It was quite confusing at the time for most of the guests because they were in bed. It was mayhem."
As British Army experts were deploying a remote-controlled robot to examine the bomb, it exploded and sent flames cascading throughout the evacuated lobby. Nobody was injured.
Politicians and Northern Ireland's future police commander, George Hamilton, said they had no doubt that IRA hard-liners opposed to compromise in the British territory were responsible. Analysts noted that the hotel last week hosted a police recruitment drive for more applicants from the city's mostly Catholic population, a peacemaking goal bitterly opposed by IRA activists.
Hamilton, a regional police commander who was selected Thursday to become the force's chief constable in September, told reporters that remnants of the IRA want to shatter Northern Ireland's peace and economy and "don't actually care about this place or about the citizens."
Most IRA members renounced violence and disarmed in 2005 after failing to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Breakaway factions still commit shootings and bombings in hopes of undermining Northern Ireland's unity government of British Protestants and Irish Catholics, the central achievement of a 1998 peace accord, as well as the recruitment of Catholics to the province's previously Protestant-dominated police force.
IRA splinter groups remain particularly active in the Catholic west side of Londonderry, which borders the Republic of Ireland. The Everglades Hotel is on the outskirts of Londonderry's predominantly Protestant east side.