Fears dissidents are upping ante as grenade launcher used in latest bid to murder police
A grenade fired at a PSNI Land Rover was a "calculated attempt to kill" by dissident republicans, police have said.
The attack took place at the troubled Ardoyne interface in north Belfast and the explosion was of such force that it penetrated the outer skin of the heavily armoured vehicle.
Police said a man ran out of Brompton Park and across the Crumlin Road at around 11.20pm.
He steadied himself before firing a handheld launcher at the patrol vehicle parked 60 feet away from him.
The device passed through the Land Rover's outer shell but ricocheted off heavier armour on the driver's side before blowing up.
The officers inside were not physically injured but left shaken.
The man then fled back into Brompton Park.
Superintendent Muir Clark, head of Belfast city policing unit, said: "It is as close as it comes to officers being killed."
He would not specify how many were in the vehicle during the attack.
Part of the Crumlin Road was cordoned off yesterday causing traffic chaos as the Army carried out a controlled explosion at around 10am.
This was the third attack on police at the flashpoint, two involving bombs and one a gun.
It is close to where a disputed Orange Order march was banned.
Mr Clark condemned it as a "cold calculated attempt to kill police officers".
"This device had the capacity to kill the police officers that were in the vehicle and any member of the public that may have been nearby," he said.
"We are extremely thankful that no one has been seriously hurt."
The senior officer vowed it would not stop patrols in the area.
Mr Clark has urged anyone with information about the attack to come forward. He said the attacker was wearing a dark hooded top and grey bottoms.
Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said the device was a 'PRIG' - a propelled recoilless improvised grenade.
"This attack demonstrates how these would-be killers are becoming more sophisticated in the weapons they are using and, although we have had a number of outstanding successes against them recently, they remain a lethal menace to society," he said.
The attack has been widely condemned by politicians.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Those who carried out this attack on police officers working to protect all communities are to be utterly condemned for their violent actions."
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds said it was a "deplorable attempt to murder police officers serving in the line of duty".
Justice Minister David Ford said: "The perpetrators who hide in the shadows need to be caught and face justice."
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the attack was "wrong and futile".
"Those behind them have been rejected, time and time again, by the local community who want these attacks to end," he said.
Alliance Policing Board representative Trevor Lunn said it was a "sickening attack on the rule of law".
North Belfast Ulster Unionist Andy Allen added: "There is no place in a democratic society for those behind this senseless attack."