Derry’s police chief has vowed that his officers will continue to “root out the evil” of dissident attacks following the overnight firebomb at the Everglades Hotel.
A motive for the attack was still being investigated this morning but one line of inquiry is that the hotel was targeted because it was due to host a PSNI recruitment event next Friday.
PSNI G District Commander Stephen Cargin said at a press conference outside the hotel this morning that they were investigating potential links between those who carried out the attack and dissident groups from the city.
Dozens of hotel residents had to be evacuated around 11.30pm last night after a hooded man with a face covering walked in to the lobby and placed a bag on the reception desk, telling the female attendant they had around 40 minutes to evacuate.
Residents were later evacuated to the City Hotel following a co-ordinate operation, and were filtering back this morning to collect their belongings.
Among those at the hotel were a large family group from Africa and England who had come back to Derry for a funeral.
Mr Cargin said: “A hooded masked man ran into the hotel the Evergaldes here. He left a hold-all on the reception desk, said he was from the IRA and he gave a 40-minute warning for the residents to get out.
“The staff very bravely and very quickly evacuated the hotel and actually I do believe they have saved lives because over 50 residents have been evacuated from the hotel and have been moved to other parts of the city, and what actually did happen once the ammunition technical officer approached the device, was that it exploded into a huge fire bomb which has caused very extensive damage inside the hotel and I have no doubt if that had’ve exploded earlier we would have dealing with mass casualties and I wouldn’t even want to think about the consequences of that this morning.”
Confirming that police were pursuing a line of inquiry that dissident groups in the city were behind the attack, Mr Cargin added:
“I will put all the resources every resource I have to continue to pursue them. We have been very successful in catching these people in the past, in the very recent past. We will continue to do this and I am confident we will continue to root this evil from the community.
“This is not just an attack on the hotel it is an attack on this whole community. If you attack one person in this community you attack us all and the community are standing shoulder to shoulder.”
Commenting on the possibility that the attack was linked to the PSNI recruitment event, he added: “PSNI are offering job opportunities to people in this city and in the community. We are offering opportunities to try and be part of the future of policing, to continue to take that journey of policing to the next level about. That’s what that recruitment is about.
“The fact these people don’t like is that we are providing a world class policing service with and for the people of this community.”
SDLP Councillor for the Waterside Gerard Diver, who was also at the scene this morning, said: “I think what happened here last night is a reminder of 40 years ago, it really is back to the future stuff.
“Ironically this city was winning awards last night in Belfast at the NI Tourism Awards about City of Culture, about many of the exciting events we have had in recent years, but yet there are still one or two mindless people that think it’s OK to throw a firebomb into the reception of a hotel with guests staying here.
“As I understand it, then the technical device went off while the people were working with it. It’s shocking to think about potentially what could have happened.”
He added: “Many of the people who work in the hospitality industry are young people who are getting their first opportunity of a job.
“For them to be exposed to that level of risk and to have that amount of fear put into them, I think is something we have to reject.”