DISSIDENT republicans have been blamed for a car bomb attack which has left a Catholic police officer fighting for his life.
The 33-year-old married constable yesterday underwent emergency surgery in the Royal Victoria Hospial in Belfast.
He was critically injured after the device detonated under his vehicle outside his Randalstown home as he drove to work early this morning.
The Irish speaking officer, who is a GAA player for the PSNI's gaelic team, was on his way to work in west Belfast when the bomb went off.
The incident happened at around 6.30am about half a mile from his home in Milltown Road.
Appealing for anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area last night to come forward, Detective Chief Superintendent Derek Williamson branded the attackers "faceless cowardly thugs".
"They skulked under the cover of darkness to try and kill or injure this officer," he said.
"It's too early to know exactly who was responsible but it's likely to have been dissident republicans."
The car bomb went off just miles from Antrim town, where two British soldiers were murdered outside the Massereene barracks by the Real IRA last March.
Putting his current personal problems to one side, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson joined Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness to condemn the attack.
The DUP leader Mr Robinson said: "This is a cowardly, evil act against a man committed to defending the free society we all enjoy.
"I have said in the past that those who perpetrate such attacks will not succeed in returning Northern Ireland to the dark days of the past. I remain steadfastly committed to upholding that promise. There is only one path forward, that of peace and democracy."
Mr McGuinness said: "The man injured today in this attack contributes positively to the community. He is an active member of the GAA and an Irish speaker. He serves the community as a member of the PSNI. The people who carried out this attack make no contribution. These actions serve no purpose and will not further any cause. My thoughts are with the injured man and his family. I pray he makes a full recovery."
The chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Barry Gilligan, described the attack as "an attempt to murder".
He added that those behind it "cannot be allowed to succeed in bringing any further terror" to Northern Ireland and urged anyone with information about the incident to pass it to the police.
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson also condemned the "cowardly attack on a police officer whose job is to serve the whole community".
He said: "Those who carried it out have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland.
"They are stuck in the past while the overwhelming majority of people want to move forward in a peaceful future together."
DUP MP for South Antrim William McCrea said he was praying that the policeman is restored to health.
"I earnestly pray he will be restored to health and strength," he said.
Alliance Leader David Ford said: "I am appalled at this murderous attack.
"The people behind this bomb have no policy and strategy except to cause death and disruption.
"I am outraged that a very small number of people still believe that using violence will achieve anything. They are seeking to drag us backwards into the dark days of the troubles."
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "It is my sincere hope that the security forces learn the lessons of the past and take robust measures to deal with the threat which continues to be posed by Republican terrorists."
SDLP Leader Policing spokesman Alex Attwood urged those in positions of leadership to stand strongly against this attack.
The West Belfast MLA and Policing Board member said: "This is clearly a serious incident and everybody in leadership must stand strong and do all they can to address terror threats and move community and politics forward.
"Dissidents have and will continue to challenge the will of everyone to move our society forward. We must be resilient and concede no ground."
SDLP south Antrim MLA Thomas Burns also condemned the attack.
"The scene of this attack is not all that far from Massarene Barracks. At the time of last year's attacks all the people of the north made their views absolutely clear. Across all parties and shadews of opinion, they condemned them utterly and called on the armed dissident groups to stop their murderous activities. We want no more murders, no more shootings, no more bombs."
Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin MLA extended his hope for a full and speedy recovery to this young PSNI officer.
He said: "I unambigously condemn those responsible for placing this device on the officer's car and call on them to desist from this activity.
"The groups who are carrying out these attacks are acting contrary to the wishes of the Irish people who want to see the continued development of a peaceful and democratic political process that allows everyone to work towards our political objectives."
Sinn Fein Policing and Justice spokesman, Alex Maskey MLA, said the bomb attack against a member of the PSNI was "wrong" and has wished him a speedy recovery.
The Policing Board member said: "I would like to express our absolute condemnation of this attack on behalf of Sinn Fin and my party colleagues on the Policing Board. This attack was wrong and will achieve nothing."
A statement released from the Roman Catholic Bishops in the Down and Connor diocese condemned the attack on the PSNI officer.
The statement was sent sent out on behalf of Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop Anthony Farquhar and Bishop Donal McKeown.
"Such an attack is totally alien to the widespread desire, hope and prayer for a stable and peaceful society," they said. "We assure him, his wife and their extended families of our continued prayerful support at this extremely difficult time."
The Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Ireland, Michel Martin TD, said such "criminal acts serve no cause other than to bring mayhem and suffering".
"The perpetrators represent no one but themselves. They are a tiny minority without any significant community support. The clearly expressed wish of the people of Northern Ireland is that there should be peace and stability. This is what the wider community, and its political representatives, have been working towards,"he said.
Dissident republicans have been responsible for a spate of bomb attacks across Northern Ireland in the last year.
In October, a dissident group planted a bomb under a policeman's car in east Belfast.
His partner suffered minor injuries in the attack.