There has been strong condemnation following an explosion in one of the busiest areas of Belfast on Friday night.
No-one is understood to have been injured after what was described as a small explosion in the Cathedral Quarter.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the attack when hundreds of people were out in restaurants and bars in the run-up to Christmas was “absolutely deplorable”.
“This was a reckless attack aimed at a busy entertainment area of the city,” said Ms Villiers.
“On one of busiest nights of the year with people enjoying the festivities ahead of Christmas, as well as all those in the final stages of Christmas shopping, it’s shows that these terrorists are stooping to a new low.
“This small minority want to drain the economic life from Belfast - but we will not let them succeed. Earlier this week I appealed to the general public to remain vigilant and after tonight’s attack, I would reinforce the importance of working with the PSNI and reporting any suspicious activities, not matter how small.”
The DUP’s Jonathan Craig said the attack was “absolutely reckless” and added that it had been “a miracle” that no-one was injured.
Pubs of Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said he was shocked by the incident, but appealed to people to keep faith in Belfast.
“We condemn this act in the strongest possible terms as it has put countless people at risk,” said Mr Neill.
“Thankfully there are no reports of injuries but the injury to confidence in Belfast as a safe city will no doubt be damaged by this news.
“We would encourage people not to be deterred by this news. Belfast will certainly not be deterred and is open for business.”
The SDLP’s Justice spokesman Alban Maginness called those behind the attack an “anti-Belfast gang”.
He said one of the most concerning aspects is that the bomb was placed in the city centre despite the extra security in Belfast following a car bomb attack three weeks ago.
“While it is of some small comfort that no one was injured, we should not underestimate the level of distress caused to those who had to be evacuated from the area.
“The Cathedral Quarter is a thriving centre for restaurants and bars and a popular spot for tourists and locals and was predictably busy on a Friday night so close to Christmas.
“It is a matter of grave concern that such an incident could take place, that even given heightened security that a bomb could be placed in this area.”
Alliance South Belfast MLA Anna Lo said the culprits are not concerned by the consequences of their actions.
“There is no place in our society for those responsible for this bomb,” said Ms Lo.
“They have no regards for the consequences of their actions and do not care if people are injured or killed.
NI21 leader Basil McCrea said it is clear there was “murderous intent” on the part of the bombers.
“On a night when Belfast is full of families shopping and Christmas parties, to carry out such an act is verging on the incomprehensible.
“Murderous intent has been displayed and those responsible have no place in any civilised society.”
He said the message to those intent on violence must be stronger than ever.
“There is a macabre familiarity to the statements of condemnation politicians have been making in recent times. In many instances it is only by good luck and the professionalism of the police service we have avoided fatalities.
“Society and politicians have to react; we have to make it clear to these people that they have no support. We will not go back to our past.”