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Hundreds 'passed bomb near store'

A bomb planted by dissident republicans outside shops in Belfast could have inflicted multiple deaths, police have said.

The viable anti-personnel device, left on the busy Antrim Road in an apparent bid to murder police officers, may have lain undiscovered for two days, said a senior officer.

It was placed beside an Xtravision video store close to a police station and detectives are investigating a possible link to a call-out they received to the area in the north of the city on Sunday night.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton said officers may have been lured toward the bomb, which failed to detonate.

"It was a viable device and designed to kill people in the area," he said. "We are examining a line of inquiry that suggests on Sunday night a police patrol was called to the Xtravision, which seemed to be a legitimate call and police officers did attend, so one line of inquiry is that perhaps this bomb was in place on Sunday night for those police officers to kill them as they went about their business."

Dissident republican group Oglaigh na hEireann has claimed responsibility for the murder bid.

Police first received reports that a device had been left in the area on Monday but it took another day before they were able to narrow the search to the area round the video store.

"I can confirm that many hundreds of people have probably walked past this device while it was abandoned by these terrorists and their lives were clearly at risk," said Mr Hamilton.

There was widespread disruption in the area during the subsequent security operation with scores of families evacuated from their homes and one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city closed.

The alert is set to continue into Thursday as army bomb disposal officers are still not satisfied the area is fully safe.

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