Dissident republicans left a bomb at the gates of a primary school in north Belfast in an attempt to murder police, a senior officer has said.
The device, described as viable, significant and reckless, was discovered in an alleyway beside Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School in Ardoyne shortly before midnight on Saturday.
People in twenty homes in a row of terraced houses in the Herbert Street area had to be evacuated while the bomb squad was called in.
They included families, pensioners and a six-year-old girl, who local representatives said was frightened and left in tears after being taken from her bed in the middle of the night.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said the bomb plot was provocative as the Holy Cross school name is synonymous with vicious and traumatic sectarian protests a decade and a half ago which targeted Catholic schoolgirls.
“It’s a very significant device more than capable of causing death and serious injury,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that device was there to try and kill community police officers on the beat in their local area, but also it was left in such a reckless manner and in such a reckless location that it would have undoubtedly led to the death or serious injury of a member of the public had it exploded anywhere near them.”
Mr Noble said he was in no doubt that dissident republicans were behind the incident in an attempt to kill police officers.
The alleyway where the device was found is used by local people coming and going as a route to and from local houses, and it was also said to be where local young people gather.
The PSNI appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious around midnight to come forward.
“All we need are the bits of the jigsaw to try and understand who was in the area, what people saw, because that’s what detectives can then build their investigation on,” Mr Noble said.
Sinn Fein MLA for the area Gerry Kelly said the device was designed to kill.
“I condemn it outright,” he said.
“Those behind it have no regard whatsoever for this community and they need to end these futile acts.”
Local SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the threat was a chilling reminder that some people are still intent on taking life and causing injury in the community.
He said: “There can be no justification for this kind of attack on our community.”
Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee condemned those behind the bomb alert.
“This security alert in Ardoyne has brought nothing but disruption to the local area,” he said.
“A number of residents have had to leave their homes as a result of this alert. This is the last thing people need.
“The local community wants to be able to go about their business in peace without these type of incidents that serve no purpose whatsoever.”
Branding the incident a “callous and calculated attack on the local community”, Progressive Unionist Party Councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston said: “I’m relived the device was found and removed before it - as was intended - murdered or maimed. Those responsible for this callous and calculated attack on the local community are without moral compass and ought to feel the full wrath of the law.”
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has condemned those responsible for the device.
PFNI Chairman, Mark Lindsay, said: “The people who did this wanted to murder or maim officers. They didn’t care if passers-by or children out playing in the area were caught up in an explosion. It was an entirely reckless act.
“This appears to have been a deadly, anti-personnel-type weapon. Thankfully, it was recovered and removed without being detonated. The attackers are terrorising people who live in the area and preventing them from getting on with their everyday lives.
“I would echo the appeal that has been made for help in finding the culprits and bringing them before the Courts.
“The local community, indeed Northern Ireland as a whole, want to be rid of these terrorists who are holding back communities and creating misery for the many.”