First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have described the bomb attack as “despicable”.
Mr Robinson said he condemned it in the strongest possible terms.
“Once again 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,” Mr Robinson said.
Mr McGuinness said those responsible had shown a complete disregard for human 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.
In a joint statement, both ministers appealed for anyone with information to contact police.
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny joined police, political and church representatives and traders in condemning the attack.
“I condemn this atrocity as 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,” he said.
While the threat posed by the violent extremists has remained “severe”, police have acknowledged a “surge” in activity has taken place in recent weeks.