An explosive device thrown at police officers near a Catholic church in Northern Ireland was designed to kill, a senior commander has said.
The bomb has been described by detectives as advanced and sophisticated even though it failed to detonate when it was hurled at a patrol vehicle on the Crumlin Road in North Belfast.
The attack happened at 12.45am this morning near the Holy Cross Church sparking a security alert for several hours.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland blamed dissident republicans.
District Commander Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw, the most senior officer in the north and west of the city, said it was attempted murder of police officers.
A phone call was made to the parish priest in Holy Cross about five minutes after the attack.
"From information we have gathered so far this morning, we believe that this device may have been thrown at a police patrol vehicle at around 12.45am and failed to detonate," the chief superintendent said.
The device was discovered by police outside the church after the alarm was raised and has since been made safe.
Mr Grimshaw said the explosive - believed to have been more sophisticated than a pipe bomb but not as elaborate as mortar - was clearly capable of killing the police officers on patrol if it exploded.
"This was a shameful attack on officers who each day go out to serve this community and keep people safe and must be outrightly condemned," he said.
The area has seen other attempts to kill police officers in the last year including when two police vehicles were struck 10 times by gunfire from assault rifles while travelling along the Crumlin Road, near Brompton Park.
Shots were also fired at police lines during rioting in the Ardoyne area on July 12 2013.
Eight families were evacuated from their homes overnight as the security operation took place.
There were also major disruptions for commuters in the Crumlin Road area and parishioners of Holy Cross hoping to attend morning mass.
The chief superintendent added: "Such disruption to community life is totally unacceptable.
"People should not be subjected to such inconvenience and disturbance to their everyday lives, particularly where families with young children, the elderly and vulnerable are forced out into the cold in the early hours of the morning.
"We are thankful this morning that no one has been hurt and we know that the community here are as appalled as we are at this attack on local community police officers by a small number of misguided individuals."
Sinn Fein councillor Gerry McCabe condemned those behind the bomb attack.
"What we do not need, close to a sensitive interface, is increased tension," he said.
"I would call on all political and community leaders to come out and roundly condemn this incident to show those behind it that their actions are wholly unacceptable."
Stewart Dickson, Stormont Assembly member and justice spokesman with the Alliance Party, said those behind the bomb attack h ave no regard for community safety.
"Somebody could have been killed or seriously injured had this device exploded," he said.
"The vast majority of people will find this incident abhorrent. Those responsible want to drag Northern Ireland back to the dark days of the past.
"My thoughts go out to the eight families who were evacuated from their homes. This must have been a frightening experience for them."
Mr Dickson appealed for anyone with information to contact the police.
Ulster Unionist Stormont Assembly member Ross Hussey condemned the bomb and a separate shooting in which a man was injured in the chest in the west of the city.
He said: "In the early hours of this morning an explosive device was thrown at a police patrol in the Ardoyne area in an attempt to murder officers. Mercifully no-one was injured, but serious disruption was caused to local residents who had to be evacuated from their homes and to services at Holy Cross parish church."
Mr Hussey added: "Both these incidents are the work of violent republican criminals who cannot accept that Northern Ireland has moved on and has left them behind. They are only capable of causing disruption and death, offer nothing of value to anyone in this society and are only holding us back."
David Ford, Justice Minister for Northern Ireland, also condemned the incident.
"Yet again we see a reckless attempt to kill and injure police officers," he said.
"I want to praise those officers involved for their quick action to evacuate families living close to Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne. I know the police will want to return matters to a normal state as soon as they can. We are very lucky today, however, that no one was injured or worse."
Mr Ford said those behind the attack were intent on injury and disruption.
"There is no place in a democratic society for those behind this senseless attack. They are acting against the wishes of the vast majority of the local community who want to live in peace," he said.
Charlie Flanagan, Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister, who held talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Teresa Villiers in Dublin today, urged people with information to go to the police.
"I unreservedly condemn those who left a device outside Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne last night," he said.
"Having visited Holy Cross myself in July I'm well aware of the good work carried out at community level there. Those responsible for this vile attack have no support in the community and this is an attack on all those who support peace and the rule of law.
"We must all stand together to support our police services and to ensure that democratic politics works for the good of all our communities."
Ms Villiers added: "I utterly condemn those who abandoned a device at Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne. Their actions have caused distress and disruption to both those who worship at Holy Cross as well as to local residents.
"Those behind this attack have no popular support. I encourage anyone with information to pass it to the police."