A brave Belfast shop worker carried a suspected fire bomb from a store after it ignited, it was revealed.
The incendiary at a sports shop in the city centre is the latest attack on the commercial heart of the Northern Ireland capital and the finger of suspicion will point at dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.
Extremists have stepped up the number of terror attacks in the days before Christmas in an effort to cripple festive trade.
A Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokesman said: "Corn Market in Belfast city centre has been closed by police following an incident at around 6.40pm Monday when a suspected incendiary device was left at a shop.
"The device is believed to have ignited but was removed from the premises by staff and left outside."
The alert happened at the Golf Store, in a pedestrianised zone lined by shops and department stores.
The area was busy with shoppers but has been sealed off while army experts examine the device.
The PSNI spokesman added: "Police are advising city centre businesses to check their premises for any suspicious objects."
Corn Market is a consumer focal point just a few hundred metres from the site of a blast on Friday night when Christmas party-goers were forced to evacuate busy bars and restaurants. A sports bag with a small explosive inside ignited on the pavement in the city's Cathedral Quarter.
Police have stepped up their presence since masked men forced a terrified driver to bring a bomb into a Belfast city centre car park.
The escalation by dissident republicans has included posting letter bombs to senior police commanders and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
Earlier on Monday evening the army defused a pipe bomb found in the garden of a house in west Belfast.
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts condemned yet another attack to hit trade in the run-up to Christmas.
"It is absolutely despicable that we have another bomb attack in the city centre but I know that there is still an absolute determination amongst traders and shoppers to continue on and not be dragged back by people behind these attacks," he said.
Nationalist SDLP Stormont MLA Alban Maginness said: "It beggars belief that following the placing of a bomb in the Cathedral Quarter on Friday night that Belfast would be faced with yet another attempted act of wanton destruction.
"To place an incendiary device in a busy shopping area is both reckless and irresponsible and serves no rational purpose.
"Those behind this incendiary device are anti-Belfast and just want to threaten jobs, livelihoods and people's enjoyment of our city. They must not be permitted to prevail."