Car bomb explodes outside courthouse in Northern Ireland

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A car bomb last night exploded in the Northern Ireland city of Newry, sending the political message that rebel republicans remain intent on attacking the Irish peace process.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the explosion, which took place as police were evacuating the area around the city's courthouse, which is close to one of Northern Ireland's busiest roundabouts.

At around 10pm a car containing the device was abandoned close to the gates of the County Down courthouse, which is protected by thick security walls. A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said "We don't have any indication that anyone was hurt. Police were in the process of evacuating the area when there was an explosion."

Last October the courthouse was the scene of a major alert after a suspicious vehicle was abandoned nearby. After a lengthy security operation the incident was declared an elaborate hoax.

Last night's bombing bore the hallmarks of an attack by one of the three dissident republican groups which are still violently active. The Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and ONH, have all staged bombing and shooting attacks over the past 12 months. Those who remain involved in shootings and bombings such as last night's incident have been described as Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, as "traitors to the island of Ireland".

But despite such condemnation and heightened security measures the three groups still manage to stage occasional attacks in Belfast and in border areas.

In the past few days police and a bomb disposal team spent several days dealing with a burnt-out car discovered during an alert near Keady, County Armagh, around 20 miles from Newry.

On Sunday the team defused what was described as a viable mortar bomb which was found near the village police station on Friday.