Vehicles hijacked in Belfast

BELFAST (Reuters) - Unidentified groups hijacked cars and set some of them alight in Belfast Monday, closing some roads, disrupting rush hour traffic and causing security alerts, police said.

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A representative of Sinn Fein, the main nationalist political party, suggested the disturbances were the work of dissident nationalist groups which want to end British control of the province by force.

“I would like the spokespeople of those behind these alerts to come forward and explain how this will in any way achieve a united Ireland,” said the representative, Caral Ni Chuilin.

“The series of bomb scares and hijackings ... have caused serious disruption to people going home from work or trying to get on with their everyday life,” she added.

Police said roads across Belfast were closed and some areas were evacuated as at least seven vehicles, including a lorry and a delivery van, were abandoned in different parts of the city.

The police declined to say who was behind the disturbances, which followed a revival this month in violent attacks on security forces. Two British soldiers were shot dead outside an army barracks and a police officer was killed two days later.

Sinn Fein is the political ally of the IRA, which ended its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland after signing a peace deal in 1998 with groups that want to maintain the union with Britain.

The recent attacks by IRA splinter groups shattered the relative calm brought by the peace deal but politicians on both sides of the province’s sectarian divide have said they will not let the shootings derail the peace process.

Police say the dissidents have around 300 members and are not widely supported within the largely Catholic community.

Peter Robinson, first minister in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing assembly, said: “I would appeal for calm and restraint from everyone in the community. Let us all work with the police to bring these criminal murderers to justice and put them behind bars where they belong.”

“Northern Ireland has sent these murderers the message loud and clear. We will not be dragged back into death and mayhem,” added Robinson, who is also leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.