Dissident republicans blamed for partial car bomb explosion in Belfast city centre
Car bomb partially exploded at Victoria Square shopping centre
Dissident republicans have been blamed for a bomb which partially exploded in a hijacked car in the heart of Belfast city centre.
The car bomb - which was parked outside an underground carpark at Victoria Square shopping centre - partially exploded as Army bomb crews were dealing with the alert at round 11.15pm on Sunday night.
According to police the device was a 60kg 'beer-keg' bomb.
There were no reports of any injuries as police had already sealed off a large area around the vehicle prior to the loud blast which went off across from Musgrave Street Police Station in the heart of the city.
It is understood the car's rear windscreen and a door were blown out but the vehicle was not destroyed. No buildings were damaged by the explosion.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said the potentially fatal blast "could have been catastrophic for Belfast and Northern Ireland".
Hundreds of people were caught up in the security alert, which was the third to hit the city on Sunday.
The security alert began around two hours earlier after three masked men dressed in boiler suits hijacked a car in the Jamaica Street area of north Belfast at around 9.30pm.
A bomb was then placed in the Renault Laguna and the driver told to take it to Victoria Square.
A number of residents in the building's apartment complex were evacuated, with the nearby Ulster Hall being used as temporary shelter.
Last night, despite the ongoing alert, the city remained quiet - with several of the main arterial route in the nearby area closed to traffic until around 8am on Monday morning.
Justice Minister David Ford has blamed dissident republicans for the attack who he said had "nothing to offer" Northern Ireland.
"Those responsible for this attack have shown a total disregard for life, including that of the driver they forced to carry the device. They also have a disregard for the people of Belfast," he said.
"Had the device exploded en route it could have caused untold death and injury.
"Thankfully little damage was caused and there were no injuries. However, aside from the appalling experience of the driver, the lives of hundreds of people were disrupted and many businesses continue to be affected.
"The people responsible for this attack have nothing to offer and it is time they realised that Northern Ireland has moved on from the dark days of our past."
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers said: "This was a reckless and callous attack on the people of Belfast which could have put many lives at risk.
"Families have been forced out of their homes and commuters delayed in their journey to work by this attempt to attack ordinary people going about their daily business."
Belfast Telegraph Digital