Dissidents are blamed as bomb hurled at Belfast police explodes in air
Dissident republicans are being blamed for a device thrown at a police patrol in north Belfast which could have killed officers or civilians.
Police say they may have been lured to the Victoria Parade area of New Lodge with the report of a burglary before being attacked with the device, which exploded in mid-air.
Residents reported hearing a loud bang and seeing police Land Rovers being driven from the scene. There were no injuries but a large hole was blasted in a nearby car's windscreen.
Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said: "If someone had been inside this vehicle, they most likely would have sustained serious injuries or could have been killed.
"We know that these types of incidents are carried out by a small but mindless number of people within our communities.
"They have shown a callous disregard for the safety of the local community and the police officers who serve it.
"We are very fortunate this morning that no one was killed or seriously injured as this incident occurred in a residential area, putting the lives of those living there at serious risk."
Police said a considerable number of homes had to be evacuated as a precaution in the security operation which followed.
A significant police presence remained the following morning, with around 10 forensic investigators scouring land surrounding a tower block in the area which had been cordoned off.
It is one of seven blocks of flats in the area which can each hold around 50 families.
Mr Grimshaw apologised for the disruption caused but said it was unavoidable and appealed for anyone with information to contact them.
"Someone has seen something and I would ask them to contact police or Crimestoppers. Any little piece of information could be vital."
The North Queen Street Community Centre remained on standby for residents whose homes were evacuated yesterday but said those affected had stayed with friends or relatives nearby.
One woman living close to the evacuated area said: "I heard a loud bang and as there has been work going on at the flats I thought it might have been the scaffolding collapsing. I don't remember anything like this happening here for a while and we don't want to see it happening again."
Another described the police relationship with residents as "so-so".
"It depends on who you're talking to but you don't like to think when police are investigating a burglary this could happen," he said. "I heard the bang, looked out and then saw two Land Rovers driving away."
Another resident said: "There have been a couple of kneecappings in the area recently. A bomb was also left over a gate in the area last year and police tried to evacuate the area but nobody took it very seriously. You get used to hearing about these sort of things."
Valerie O'Brien, principal of the nearby Victoria Nursery School, said she was thankful to be able to open as normal yesterday.
"I was in touch with the police and we were able to have a full attendance," she said.
The DUP's Nigel Dodds said the attack was "deeply concerning" and urged the local community to pass on information to police.
North Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly condemned the attack as reckless.
The Ulster Unionist Party's north Belfast spokesman Andy Allen said: "This was a disgusting attack on police officers who go out each day to serve and protect the entire community and it must be condemned unequivocally."