Northern Ireland

Belfast bomb 'despicable' say Robinson and McGuinness

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Media captionA bomb that exploded in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter on Friday evening could have killed anyone nearby. Claire Savage reports

A bomb attack in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter on Friday evening was "despicable and appalling", Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have said.

Dissident republican group, Óglaigh na hÉireann, said they were responsible.

Police said the explosion at Exchange Street West at about 18:45 GMT could have killed or maimed anyone nearby.

The bomb went off as the area was being cleared. No-one was injured in the attack.

Police said the bomb was fully functional and consisted of explosives and flammable liquid.

It was in a sports bag and was left on a street about 150 metres away from the spot identified in a warning call made to a newspaper office.

Image caption The bomb was in this sports bag and was spotted by a member of the public who took this picture

Police are searching for a man in a black hooded top who was seen in the area at about 18:00 GMT. He was carrying a black sports bag.

The Irish News took the telephone bomb warning. It said the caller claimed to represent republican dissidents, Óglaigh na hÉireann.

About 1,000 people were affected by the alert in the Cathedral Quarter, which is one of the main entertainment venues in Belfast and home to a number of bars and restaurants.

On Saturday, First Minister Peter Robinson said this was an "attack on democracy".

"We are witnessing the work of a mindless minority who are intent on taking the heart out of the city and wreaking havoc on the lives and businesses of the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland," he said.

"Their cause will not be progressed in any way by acts such as this and I would ask anyone with any scrap of information to pass it on to the PSNI without delay, to ensure that those responsible for these despicable acts are brought to justice."

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Media captionDetective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway said the placing of the device was "reckless"

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the bombers showed "a complete disregard for life".

"Their actions have done nothing to move our society forward but, instead, have caused distress to local residents, disruption to Christmas revellers and loss of revenue for surrounding businesses," he said.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said it was "a mindless attack on the sanctity of human life, carried out by people whose depraved agenda cannot, and will not, be allowed to gain a foothold in Northern Ireland".

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