Belfast fire bomb: Man burst into flames in shop
A man, believed to be a fire bomber, burst into flames in a shop in Belfast city centre on Monday night.
He ran off with his clothes on fire through shoppers in the Cornmarket area. Police said he had injuries to his head and shoulders.
Fire bombs or incendiary devices were used widely during the Troubles to disrupt trade, but the tactic has been rarely used in recent years.
The attack follows two small bomb explosions in Belfast within a month.
Firebombs, or incendiary devices, were used by republican groups throughout the Troubles.
They were considered relatively low-risk to those who used them, in that they would be abandoned in a busy shop and could be concealed in the pockets of clothing.
They were designed to ignite after shops had closed, thus destroying the premises overnight.
Although there has been a recent upsurge in dissident republican activity, including the targeting of police officers in gun attacks, the impact has been limited.
Many of the devices used have either been small, or have failed to fully detonate.
Monday night's attempted attack happened at about 18:40 GMT at the Golf Madness store in Cornmarket.
Chief Supt Alan McCrum said the suspected fire bomber - who is believed to be in his mid-40s - may need hospital treatment.
He said staff in the shop had thought the man looked suspicious and approached him.
"He appeared to move something underneath his jacket and seconds later a large flame ignited inside his coat and engulfed his head and shoulders as he attempted to put the flames out with his hands," he said.
"He ran out of the shop in the direction of Ann Street, having dropped the device that he had in his pocket."
Ch Supt McCrum described the suspect as about 6ft, plump, wearing a dark, black waterproof coat and a beanie hat.
The shop owner, Nick Pierpoint, described the incident as "sickening".'Scarpered'
"He (the man) seemed to be flicking at something and, I think, maybe the thing (fire bomb) had gone off and then, literally, he started to go up into flames, which obviously panicked him and panicked us, and he just ran out of the shop and ran down the street," Mr Pierpoint said.
The area was then evacuated as Army bomb disposal officers examined the device.
The security operation, which lasted almost four hours, ended at about 22:30 GMT when the police cordon was lifted.
On 24 November, police mounted an extensive security operation after a car bomb partially exploded outside Victoria Square shopping centre.
Last Friday night, a small bomb placed inside a holdall detonated in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter as police were clearing members of the public from the area.
No-one was injured in either of the bombings, which were blamed on dissident republican paramilitaries.
Belfast City Centre manager Andrew Irvine said the attacks were "absolutely reprehensible".
However, he pointed out that traders were determined not to let them destroy their business.
"The reality is for anybody who would want to come in and do this, it's not just a question of avoiding police eyes, they need to avoid the eyes of every single person working in this city, because people are now being vigilant," he said.
He appealed for any businesses that have CCTV to check it and check their stores throughout the day and at the end of the day.'Beggars belief'
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Retail Trade Association, said: "There is absolute utter disgust that yet again Belfast city centre is in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
"I think a message needs to go out to the people who plant these bombs - you simply will not win, you're not going to ruin our town centre and you're not going to ruin Christmas."
Alban Maginness from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) said: "It beggars belief that following the placing of a bomb in the Cathedral Quarter on Friday night that Belfast would be faced with yet another attempted act of wanton destruction.
"To place an incendiary device in a busy shopping area is both reckless and irresponsible and serves no rational purpose.
"Those behind this incendiary device are anti-Belfast and just want to threaten jobs, livelihoods and people's enjoyment of our city. They must not be permitted to prevail," he added.
Anna Lo from the Alliance Party said: "I am sickened that yet again lives have been put at risk by the mindless actions of these callous and evil individuals.
"There is no place in our society for those who wish to bring death, injury and destruction to our streets."
Ulster Unionist assembly member Tom Elliott said it was a "sobering reminder that there are still fanatics out there who care nothing for the safety of others or the economic well-being of our city and country".
"These attempts at economic sabotage must be resisted by all means necessary," he added.