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Dissident car bomb was 'intended to kill' officer

Published 31/12/2012

Claire Simpson

DISSIDENT republicans have been blamed for an under-car bomb which almost killed a policeman and his family in east Belfast.

The police officer was preparing to get into his car along with his wife and young daughter outside their home on the Upper Newtownards Road at about 2pm yesterday when he noticed a device under the passenger side.

It is understood the man, who is in his late thirties, has two children and was planning to take his family out for Sunday lunch.

He immediately called his colleagues, who brought in British army bomb disposal experts.

Residents were evacuated from their homes for several hours and were only allowed to return late yesterday evening.

It is understood the army carried out two controlled explosions on the car.

Police described the bomb as a "viable unexploded device" planted by dissidents who "intended to kill" the officer.

They said it had been put under the car sometime between Friday afternoon and lunch-time yesterday.

The bomb was planted just a mile from Stormont.

It is understood the bomb is similar to ones planted under other officers' cars, including one which injured the 38-year-old girlfriend of a police dog handler in Kingsdale Park in east Belfast.

At the time, dissident splinter group Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) admitted they planted the mercury tilt-switch-type device designed to cause maximum damage to the passenger side of the car.

Dissidents have killed members of the security forces in recent years.

Last month, a newly-formed dissident "IRA" group shot dead prison officer David Black in a motorway ambush in Co Armagh.

In April 2011 Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr died when car bomb exploded under his vehicle at his home in Omagh.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said dissident republicans planted yesterday's bomb.

"His family and neighbours in the vicinity were also put at risk of serious harm," he said.

He said it was fortunate the bomb was found before it exploded.

"Our belief is that this attempted murder was carried by those opposed to peace from within dissident republicanism," he said.

"They don't care who they attack, they don't care who they kill. They are simply anti-peace and determined to carry on bringing pain and devastation to families and communities by maiming and killing."

He urged anyone who saw anything suspicious between the junction of Cabinhill Park and the Knock Road between Friday afternoon and lunch-time yesterday to contact detectives.

Justice minister David Ford said the attack was "on our whole community".

"The officer was serving the community; he was working for all of us," he said.

"It is ironic that this latest attack was carried out so close to Stormont, where those who are democratically elected seek to move matters forward through debate. The people responsible for this and other recent attacks have no mandate and speak for no Chairman of the Policing Board, Brian Rea, expressed his "shock and disgust" at the attack.

"The board continues to be deeply concerned at such attacks," he said.

Ulster Unionist Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers said there was "no question" that dissidents were behind yesterday's attack.

"I was at the scene and have spoken to residents. They are absolutely horrified at what has happened," he said.

"These people are hellbent on causing mayhem and obviously wanted something to happen before another new year."

SDLP policing spokesman Conall McDevitt said the attempted attack was "cynical and deplorable".

DUP East Belfast assembly member Robin Newton said the group which planted the bomb has "nothing to offer the community except heartache and sorrow".