Two bombs planted by Irish Republican Army dissidents detonated Thursday night in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, but no injuries were reported as police quickly evacuated the area following phoned warnings.
Martina Anderson, a former Irish Republican Army member who represents Londonderry for the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, said one bomb left outside the city's main tourist office exploded as about 75 elderly residents of a nursing home were still being evacuated about 25 yards (meters) away.
She said IRA dissidents "need to come forward and explain how they believe this achieved anything, other than the disruption of vulnerable old people's lives."
Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin, the police commander in Northern Ireland's second-largest city, said much of central Londonderry would be sealed off Friday so that police could comb the bomb sites for forensic clues.
Police evacuated the city's major shopping center as bombs placed in nearby streets detonated within 10 minutes of each other. At least one bomb appeared to have been concealed in an abandoned gym bag.
Martin said police received two coded telephone warnings about a half hour before the first of the bombs exploded. The extent of damage wouldn't be determined until daybreak Friday because of the risk that dissidents had placed additional booby-trap bombs in the area to ambush officers.
"Thankfully we are not dealing with mass casualties or worse this evening," Martin said.
"The people in Derry do not want this disruption. It is cowardly and callous. People simply want to move on with their lives, not take a step back. Regrettably the whole community will once again suffer because of the needless actions of a few," he said.
IRA splinter groups based in the overwhelmingly Catholic west side of Londonderry have repeatedly targeted local businesses and police stations with a range of homemade bombs. They reject the IRA's 2005 decision to renounce violence and disarm, and insist that Northern Ireland should be ejected from the United Kingdom by force.
Their attacks have caused relatively little damage and few casualties, and chiefly appear to rally politicians from all sides in support of Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant government, the central accomplishment of nearly two decades of peacemaking.
"These are the desperate actions of yesterday's men. They seem to be more wedded to the struggle than to the cause they claim to be pursuing," said David Ford, justice minister of the unity government.
Thursday's attacks came on the eve of a court judgment in the trial of two suspected IRA dissidents charged with murdering two British soldiers in March 2009. The victims were off duty and unarmed when IRA dissidents shot them at close range as they collected pizzas outside the entrance of an army base. They were the first killings of British security forces in Northern Ireland since 1998, the year of the province's Good Friday peace accord.