Although the device was not the work of the IRA it has increased general apprehension that Northern Ireland could be sliding back towards violence on a larger scale.
The car bomb was dealt with by a motorised bomb disposal robot which managed to blow the device apart without setting off its main charge. The car was subsequently found to contain around 600lb of home-made explosives, an amount which would have caused serious damage over a wide area.
A warning call had been received just before noon from the "IRA Continuity Army Council", which has been responsible for sporadic bomb attacks over the last two years. Most of its activities have ended in failure, but the organisation, though small, is clearly becoming more ambitious.
The group is said by security sources to have a close relationship with Republican Sinn Fein, the party set up 10 years ago by the veteran republican Ruairi O Bradaigh. He broke away from Sinn Fein because he believed it was moving from militarism and into politics.
The group's most destructive act, in July of this year, was to blow up a well-known hotel in Co Fermanagh. In early October an attempt to plant a car bomb, containing 250lb of explosives, in Belfast city centre failed.
The incident caused concern in security circles, however, since it appeared to represent the organisation's first major operation in Belfast. The RUC and army will be reviewing security measures in the run-up to Christmas.
Among scores of offices and businesses evacuated while the bomb was being defused yesterday was the office of SDLP leader John Hume, who is MP for the city. Mr Hume said: "The people responsible are the enemies of everyone. The people engaged in this activity are total enemies of the people of Derry and Ireland. They have no friends here."
Mr Hume added that he believed a new IRA ceasefire could be brought about.
He declared: "I have been in intensive dialogue with Gerry Adams and I know that a ceasefire can take place. I also know that it is for real. I am quite prepared to stick my whole reputation on that.
"The opportunity now exists to bring total and lasting peace, and I believe the British government can bring that about."
Sinn Fein leaders have recently said that proposals had been conveyed to London, but that no reply had yet been received from the Government.Reuse content