Bombers who lured police in Northern Ireland into a booby trap by claiming a woman was being attacked have been branded "the lowest of the low".
The officers who raced to a wooded area of south Belfast following a bogus 999 call just before midnight on Monday survived only because the bomb they tripped failed to detonate.
Detectives hunting those behind the murder bid have said the bomb and wire attached to a gate at the scene could easily have killed police or members of the public.
The failed attack in a residential area of Annadale Embankment is being blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process. Earlier this month the same extremists murdered Pc Ronan Kerr, who died after a bomb exploded under his car in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
Superintendent Chris Noble said the officers had called army bomb experts to the scene of the latest alert once they spotted the device.
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."
Democratic Unionist member Jimmy Spratt, who sits on the Northern Ireland Policing Board which oversees the police service, condemned the attack.
"Those responsible are the lowest of the low and should be utterly condemned," he said.
"Officers arrived at this scene expecting to be coming to the aid of a vulnerable woman in distress. Instead there was a viable explosive device designed to kill them. Terrorists were trying to use police officers' commitment to serve the community to lead them to their deaths. These are the actions of cowards."