Northern Ireland

Pipe bomb attack on PSNI officers "attempted murder"

Forensic officers at the scene of the attack
Image caption Forensic officers have been looking for evidence at the scene of the attack

Two police officers have escaped injury after two pipe bombs were thrown at them in north Belfast.

The officers were responding to an emergency 999 call in Ballysillan at about 02:00 BST on Tuesday.

They had just got out of their vehicle on the Upper Crumlin Road when the devices were thrown. They took cover as the bombs exploded.

The officers were left very shaken. Chief Inspector Andy Freeburn said it was "a blatant attempt to murder".

He described the devices as "large pipe bombs" or "improvised type grenades" and said those behind the attack had showed a "callous disregard" for the officers and those living in the area.

"We are just shocked at how narrowly tragedy was averted," he said.

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Media captionPolice Ch Insp Andy Freeburn said the bombs landed "within feet" of officers

"They were out protecting the community. It is just sheer good fortune that they were not killed or seriously injured.

"I was struck by their courage and the commitment that they displayed in protecting the public.

"They were doing the job they joined to do and love doing and yet somebody made an attempt on their lives."

The chief inspector said this type of attack had been carried out by dissident republicans in the past but it was too soon to speculate any further.

He said police were still examining if the call-out was genuine.

"It could be that this was designed to play on the protective instincts of police officers... and that was potentially exploited," he said.

Johnny Ross, who lives close to the scene, was woken by the explosions.

"They rattled the house. They were quite frightening," he said.

"I have three young kids in the house and the bombs went off a few metres from the house.

"The police were here within three to five minutes."

The area where the pipe bombs exploded has been cordoned off and about 20 people had to move out of their homes overnight.

The Ballysillan Leisure Centre was opened at about 03:30 BST and 13 residents stayed there. They included some elderly people, a pregnant woman and a child.

Bernie Kelly from Belfast Trust's Emergency Response Team said: "I think it is disruptive, particularly for older people and the pregnant lady... It is quite disorientating.

"They are very stoic but they are very tired and are keen to get back into their own homes."

Image caption Ballysillan Leisure Centre was opened for people moved out of their homes

DUP MP for North Belfast Nigel Dodds said it had "all the hallmarks of a dissident republican attack".

He added: "There can be no doubt that those who planned and carried out this attack intended to cause serious injury or death to police officers.

"It is a huge relief that no injuries were caused but this will have been a deeply shocking experience for them.

"This is a grim reminder of the threat of terrorist attack that the PSNI have to operate under as they respond to emergency calls and protect the community."

Policing Board Chair Brian Rea also condemned the attack.

"These officers were responding to a call for assistance and in luring officers in this way there was also complete disregard for the safety of people in the community," he said.

"The condemnations from within the local community are very welcome and I would urge anyone with information to bring it to the police."

Crumlin Road has now reopened after being closed for a time due to the alert.

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