Police in Northern Ireland answering a bogus call for help survived a booby-trap bomb attack, detectives revealed today.
They were responding to a 999 call in which a man claimed to have heard a woman in distress in a wooded area off Annadale embankment in south Belfast.
But officers who raced to the scene at about midnight subsequently found a bomb and wire attached to the gate they passed through to search the area.
Superintendent Chris Noble confirmed that a viable device capable of causing multiple deaths was discovered.
He said police believed the bomb had failed to detonate.
The senior officer said army bomb experts were called to the quiet residential area where the booby-trap was uncovered.
Mr Noble said: "They confirmed it was viable, and indeed it was capable of serious injury and indeed death."
He added: "Serious injury and death, not just to the police officers who were responding to a 999 call about a woman in distress, but also serious injury and death to a number of potential runners in the area, to people who could have been walking dogs, who regularly go through the wooded area, and indeed, that gate."
Police received the bogus 999 call at 11.50pm last night and officers were sent to the scene, which is on a busy road and is opposite allotments which are often in use.
Officers arriving at the wooded area quickly realised it was empty and only then discovered the bomb attached to the gate.
Army technical officers were called to the scene at about 1.30am and the police helicopter was launched.
Detectives have now appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
Police are on high alert for attacks by dissident republicans following the death of Constable Ronan Kerr earlier this month after a bomb exploded under his car in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
In a subsequent incident, hundreds of motorists were allowed to drive past a van containing a 500lb bomb in Newry.
The underpass on the main Belfast to Dublin Road was closed after the suspect vehicle was found by police on April 7, but cones were later removed.
The police said the cordon had been removed by motorists.
Police described the 500lb bomb as "sophisticated and substantial".
Dissidents are believed to have stepped up their activity ahead of the May 5 Assembly elections.