Bomber fled as police officer banged on window of her bedroom
The lives of two police officers were saved when one disturbed a dissident republican planting a deadly bomb under her husband's car, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The female officer, who is a Catholic and married to a Protestant, woke up at 2.45am and looked out of the bedroom window in Glenrandle in Eglinton, Co Londonderry.
There she saw the shadowy figure of a man lying on the ground beside her husband's car.
The mother banged on the window, startling the bomber who ran off and jumped into a waiting car which sped away from the scene.
It is understood that the sinister episode was captured on CCTV at the couple's home, which is now being examined by an investigation team.
The police officers alerted their colleagues on duty who arrived a short time later and began an evacuation of 15 homes near to where the device was planted underneath the male officer's car.
The couple's children were not at home at the time.
Three men, whose ages were given as late 20s to late 30s, were arrested at 4am by the Garda's Northern Regional Support Unit near Ballybofey in Co Donegal.
Two of the men were taken to Letterkenny Garda station and the third to Milford for questioning, while the car in which they were travelling was taken away for technical examination. A 27-year-old man was later arrested by the PSNI in Eglinton.
PSNI district commander Superintendent Mark McEwan described the attack as the attempted murder of two of his officers who have served the community for years.
He added: "This is yet another example of the cowardly elements in our society who show no regard for the safety of local residents and the police officers who serve their community.
"We are obviously very thankful that this attack was thwarted and that no one was injured here this morning, but this is a stark reminder that the threat against our police service and its employees remains severe.
"Clearly, there are people out there in today's society who are still intent on causing murder and mayhem."
Eglinton is a quiet village on the outskirts of Derry where the two communities have lived peacefully side by side for decades.
The attack on the home of the two police officers enraged everyone in the village, including Olivia O'Kane, who was among those evacuated from Glenrandle.
She said: "This is such an extraordinary thing to have happen here, this is a quiet village where everyone gets along.
"It is just too bad that we had to leave our home in the middle of the night and it is too bad as well that the two officers in that house couldn't be allowed to get on with their job without people trying to kill them."
Condemnation of the attack came from right across the religious and political spectrum.
A joint statement from the leaders of the four main Churches in Derry reminded the bombers that society had rejected violence.
The statement, from Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop Ken Good, Dr Robert Buick and the Rev Peter Murray said: "There can be no justification for the attempted murder. It was wrong. It was evil. It was reckless. The police have said those who left the device endangered not only the police officers but other people living in the area.
"Like the vast majority of people in our community, we had hoped that attacks like this had become a thing of the past.
"The use of violence has been rejected repeatedly and overwhelmingly by our community, so the attempted murder was an assault on us, too, and on our aspiration for a better society."
First Minister Peter Robinson said a united front against the bombers was needed.
He said: "It was only through vigilance that this device was discovered and a potential tragedy averted.
"Everyone must stand united against those who would use violence and terror in our society and I unreservedly condemn those behind this incident."
Foyle MP Mark Durkan added: "These people are capable of using a viable device, but they don't actually have a viable political strategy.
"The real patriots are police officers serving all in the community, not those intent on plunging us back to the ugliness and helplessness of the past."
Sinn Fein councillor for Eglinton Paul Fleming described the attack as "wrong and futile". He said: "We are looking to the future and we will not be held back by those who want to drag us back to the past."
The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Mark Lindsay appealed for information.
He said: "There is a network of people responsible for this act of madness. They obtained the components for the device. They made the device, targeted the officer and planted it under the officer's car in a cold-blooded attempt to murder.
"They didn't care who else they killed or injured. Their only objective is to drag us back to darkness and hopelessness and I want to appeal to the community to help the police track down the culprits of this cowardly attack."