A “deadly and unstable” booby-trap bomb was designed to kill police in Northern Ireland lured in by a false alarm, a detective said.
The explosive was set up to look like a fired mortar but detonate if moved or touched, police said.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) issued photos of the device lying on a footpath in Craigavon, Co Armagh.
It said a call to a Belfast newspaper that a mortar had been fired at a police patrol but missed its target and a separate report of a loud bang at around midnight on Friday was meant to lure police into the area.
Detective Superintendent Richard Campbell said: “Despite the initial report to the Tullygally Road our enquiries to date would lead us to believe a mortar was not fired and in fact the entire incident was staged in order to bring police into an area where another deadly and unstable device awaited.
“Although the explosive was designed and set up to look like a fired mortar, it was in fact a booby-trap device.
“In other words it was designed to explode if moved or touched.”
He said the attack was indiscriminate.
“Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that first responders were the target, the reality is that anyone could have been caught up in the carnage.
“We are extremely fortunate that the swift actions of those officers who were first on scene meant that there was not serious injury or death.”
At about midnight on Friday, the loud bang was reported to police in the Tullygally Road area of the town.
Meanwhile, officers warned the threat of being ambushed by dissident republicans could slow the police response to calls for help from the public.
They will have to exercise even greater levels of caution before setting out to deliver help and assistance, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said.
PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay said: “Tullygally was a vicious attempt to murder colleagues who were responding to a call from a member of the public.
“In fact, it was a come-on, a deliberate attempt to lure them to a place where republican terrorists could mount their ambush.
“The officers in the vehicle escaped injury or death, and for that the police ‘family’ is hugely grateful.
“Officers operating in particular areas already exercise great caution. They are forced to risk assess and evaluate, and that, unfortunately, can lead to delays in responding to genuine calls from the public.”
Widespread condemnation of a reckless act & thank you for that support . I commend the swift & selfless actions of police officers & ATO colleagues in removing this device & preventing harm to the local community. #keepingpeoplesafe @PoliceServiceNI https://t.co/6Io6uoc8lA— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI) July 27, 2019
On the back of this cold-blooded act at midnight on Friday, officers will have to be even more cautious, Mr Lindsay added.
He said: “No one expects officers to leave themselves vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and that must mean the very real prospect of slower response times.
“Our communities deserve a service free from the threat that is posed by terrorist murderers.
“When they call the police for help or intervention, they have a rightful expectation that officers will get to them as quickly as possible.
“Regrettably, and for very prudent and sensible reasons, that isn’t always possible.”
He said politicians and community leaders needed to work with the PSNI to rid their communities of “thugs and criminals”.
“For the sake of the vast number of decent people, they should up their game considerably.”