Residents have spoken of their horror after two police officers escaped with their lives in a suspected dissident republican attack.
Two young constables had seconds to dive for cover when pipe bombs were thrown at them, landing feet from where they had exited a vehicle in north Belfast, following an emergency call for help shortly before 2.30am yesterday.
The men were “extremely close” to losing their lives, Chief Inspector Andrew Freeburn, Area Commander for North Belfast, said. He described the attack as “a blatant attempt to murder”.
Two large, improvised, grenade-type devices, designed to scatter shrapnel, were used in the attack in a largely loyalist area of the Upper Crumlin Road, he added.
The attack has raised fears of dissidents turning to a disturbing new tactic.
Detectives are investigating whether the officers were deliberately lured into the area on the pretence of an emergency.
The dissidents would have anticipated a swift police response to the 999 call in an area where officers would not have expected this type of threat.
The Upper Crumlin Road between the junctions of Ballysillan Road and Ligoniel Road remained cordoned off during yesterday evening’s rush hour, as officers continued to gather evidence.
Police are still investigating whether the 999 call which brought police into the area was genuine or a trap. It’s also not clear how the attackers made their escape.
Residents stranded in Ballysillan Leisure Centre from shortly before 4am on Tuesday spoke to the Belfast Telegraph of their shock and horror. Brian Lynch, who is in his early 70s, said he could remember very little about what happened after he woke to the blasts, yards from his home.
“It’s the worst thing that I can remember — without anyone hitting me.
“Even now I cannot take on board what happened and why they did it.
“I heard some sort of fuss and looked out the window,” the north Belfast pensioner recalled.
“My mind went blank. All I remember was the bang and somebody saying, ‘you need to get out’. All I can remember then was being here. I was in shock,” he added. “I have not really recovered.”
It was Brian’s neighbour — aged in his 80s — who knocked on his door to tell him to evacuate.
“I thought the windows were coming in when I heard the pipe bombs,” he said.
Resident Lorraine Davison added: “I looked out my window and there was a policeman running up that street shouting ‘take cover’,” she said. “There was a police Land Rover up the street and there was a big puff of smoke around it.”
Earlier this month, a similar device was found after shots were fired at three police officers in the Foxes Glen area of Twinbrook, west Belfast.
Several people have responded to a police appeal, calling for sightings of any strange vehicles in the area in the days leading up to yesterday’s attack to be reported.
“I met the officers at 3am this morning and they were very deeply shocked about what had happened,” Chief Inspector Freeburn said.
“I don’t think it had sunk in fully what had happened and how close they came to being seriously injured or killed.”
Asked how close the officers came to injury or death, he added: “Extremely close. For that size of device to fall within several feet, that is extremely fortuitous.”