A BOMB discovered close to the home of an elderly north Belfast woman is believed to have been a 'horizontal mortar' of the type previously used by the IRA.
Chief Inspector Andrew Freeburn said the "substantial and viable" device was found at Jamaica Street in Ardoyne at around 2pm on Thursday by officers who carried out a search under a warrant.
He said he believed dissident republicans left the potentially deadly device at the pensioner's home.
The officer confirmed that two houses in the area have been searched in connection with the find.
During the alert 30 houses were evacuated as British army bomb disposal experts made the device safe.
Residents were allowed to return to their homes yesterday morning.
Chief Inspector Freeburn said those responsible may have "used the infirmity of this woman to actually store this murderous device in the rear of the property".
"This is a very built up residential area," he said.
"I am told that this device, if it had detonated as intended, had the ability to murder not only its target but those in the immediate vicinity. So it is a very worrying development.
"At this stage it is not clear if the object was intended to be used in situ at that address, or for example, it was being stored.
"But what I am told is that if it had of detonated it would have caused death.
"My understanding is at this stage that the reference to the word substantial is not about the size of the device but actually its capability and its potential impact."
It is believed the device found in Ardoyne is a horizontal mortar, a weapon used regularly by the Provisional IRA to target security force vehicles and installations during the Troubles.
First used in the early 1990s, the horizontal Mark-12 mortar claimed the lives of RUC officers and British soldiers.
Sinn Fein councillor Gerard McCabe said the discovery has caused fear locally.
"Ardoyne has been through enough in recent times without these micro-groups bringing further fear and disruption to people's lives," he said.
"Thankfully no-one was injured and those evacuated have returned to their homes."
SDLP councillor Nicola Mallon said the device was "left outside an elderly vulnerable person's home in one of the most densely populated areas in Belfast".
"The people behind this act clearly have no regard for this pensioner or the people of Ardoyne whose safety they so easily put at risk," she said.
"What has this act achieved, except to again paint a negative and completely unrepresentative image of the people of Ardoyne?"
DUP MP Nigel Dodds also said those who left the device had no regard for anyone.
"It is outrageous that a bomb has been stored in this densely populated area," he said.
■ QUESTIONS: Chief Inspector Andrew Freeburn speaking at Tennent Street police station yesterday PICTURES: Mark Marlow
■ SCENE: Jamaica Street in Ardoyne, north Belfast, where a viable mortar bomb was found on Thursday