A foiled attempt to murder a police officer in Northern Ireland was carried out by dissident republicans who could also have killed his family, police said.
The Belfast-based Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) constable was about to take his wife and two young children out for Sunday lunch yesterday when he checked under his car outside his house in the city and discovered a viable device.
Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “If that officer had not checked under his car we would have been looking at a murder or multiple murders.”
The constable was checking his car outside his house on the Upper Newtownards Road when he found the device yesterday.
Dissidents have repeatedly targeted security force members in recent years. Over the last five years there have been 115 arrests and 35 charges and 64 officers have had to leave their homes, a police spokeswoman said.
In November long-serving prison officer David Black, 52, was shot dead in a motorway ambush in Co Armagh as he drove to work.
A group styling itself the “new IRA” claimed that attack. The faction was formed in the summer when a number of splinter groups joined forces.
In April 2011 newly qualified police officer Ronan Kerr, 25, died when a dissident booby trap car bomb exploded under his vehicle at his home in Omagh.
Mr Hamilton appealed for anyone with information on the latest murder bid to come forward.
“All right-minded people need to condemn this, it is a repugnant and inhumane act,” he said during a Belfast press conference.
“We believe that the consequences of this could have been absolutely devastating for the officer, his family, the police family and for the community across Northern Ireland.
“He is a good officer and hard working. His purpose is to serve his community.
“Those people who are anti-peace…who are not prepared to move forward, have tried to murder this officer, we consider that repugnant, it is inhumane by any standards, in any society that is wrong.”
He said there was a severe threat level across Northern Ireland and appealed to officers to be vigilant and check under their cars.
He hoped the device would be useful as evidence because it was discovered and did not engage.
“This murderous type of attack is not the way forward for our society,” he added.
“No one is entitled to take the life of another human being in circumstances such as this. Our appeal is for the vast majority of people to stand up against this rump of anti-peace dissident republicanism.”
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford condemned those responsible.
“Fortunately, due to the officer’s commendable vigilance, the attempt on his life was not successful,” he said.
“Let us be clear – this was an attack not only on a police officer and his family but on our whole community. The officer was serving the community, he was working for all of us.
“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-one. They need to recognise the futility of their campaign and respect the wishes of the vast majority of our community who want an end to all violent acts.”
Residents of nearby homes were evacuated in the alert. A local church opened its doors to offer shelter while army technical officers (ATO) worked to make the scene safe.
Northern Ireland Office Minister Mike Penning said: “Alongside the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, I utterly condemn this attack. Those who are responsible offer nothing except terror and misery, not just to this police officer and his family but to his neighbours and the wider community.”