Progressive Unionist city councillor Billy Hutchinson was jogging in the Shankill area of the city at about 6.15am when four men in a white Vauxhall Cavalier tried to bundle him into the car.
Mr Hutchinson, a former Assembly member for North Belfast, managed to flee when a security guard in the area intervened.
Police yesterday confirmed they were investigating an “alleged incident” in Cambria Street. However, Progressive Unionist party leader David Ervine said they believed republicans were behind the attempted kidnapping.
“Billy was jogging at about 6.15am when a white Cavalier with four men stopped and made a bid to abduct him,” the east Belfast councillor said. “Billy said there appeared to be something at the back of the vehicle. He did not know if it was some sort of weapon or a gun.
“Fortunately a security guard on duty in the area ran out and Billy was able to make his escape. We believe that nationalists from the Ardoyne were behind this very sinister incident.”
Mr Hutchinson and Mr Ervine have been the two most prominent faces of the PUP since the Good Friday Agreement.
In recent years, Mr Hutchinson has served as the go-between between the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando in their dealings with the international decommissioning body in Belfast.
He has raised loyalist concerns in the sectarian flashpoint area of the Ardoyne and Glenbryn, where a picket of Catholic primary school children took place two years ago.
He has also been a sharp critic of other loyalists, including former Ulster Freedom Fighters commander, Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair.
Mr Ervine yesterday appealed for calm in the loyalist community. “This is deeply sinister. Many of us have sat back watching how dissidents are failing to destabilise the situation and what we are asking ourselves is: was this an attempt to heighten tensions and further destabilise the situation?”
Nationalist SDLP chairman Alex Attwood described the attempted abduction as “a sinister and dangerous development”.
The West Belfast councillor said: “Nationalism may have significant differences with loyalism and Billy Hutchinson, but he has been a force for progress within loyalism.
“This type of incident is reminiscent of the worst days of the Troubles when public representatives were targeted and even murdered by those who did not agree with them.”
Some republicans in North Belfast were initially sceptical about the PUP's claims. One source in Ardoyne said: “People here are a bit staggered at the claims and that someone from this area tried to abduct Mr Hutchinson.
“It has been a quiet summer in this area. Why would anybody jeopardise that?”