Police in Northern Ireland are treating a failed dissident republican grenade attack on its officers as attempted murder.
A senior officer said it was only “good fortune” that lives were not lost in Friday night’s bomb bid in east Belfast, revealing that the military-grade weapon landed at the feet of three officers but failed to detonate.
The grenade was hurled from an alleyway in the republican Short Strand area.
The murder bid came just over 24 hours after a failed under-car booby trap bomb attack on a person with connections to the armed forces in north Belfast.
The sophisticated tilt switch bomb fell off the vehicle in the Linden Gardens area on Thursday and did not detonate. A young boy apparently kicked it as it lay on the street.
Both attacks have been blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.
Police officers were responding to reports from local residents of anti-social behaviour when the grenade was thrown at around 10.15pm in the vicinity of Pottingers Quay in the Short Strand.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Temporary Superintendent Bobby Singleton said he believed the calls to police to attend the area were genuine and were not a bid to lure officers into danger. He revealed how near the three officers came to death or serious injury.
“The device was thrown and landed very close to the officers, basically at their feet,” he said. “Those who carried out this attack showed a total disregard for the safety of the local community and worryingly, for the second time in as many days, young people were in the vicinity at the time of the attack.”
He said the “reckless and senseless” attack was being treated as attempted murder and said the assumption was dissidents were to blame.
The senior officer also hailed the three officers targeted for staying on duty to help evacuate the area in the wake of the attack.
“It is only by sheer good fortune that we do not have a fatality on our hands as this attack occurred in a built-up residential area,” he said.
“Police officers join to serve our communities and work tirelessly to keep them safe.
“In contrast to the irresponsible actions of those behind the attack, the officers targeted insisted on remaining at the scene to assist in keeping local residents and their colleagues safe.”
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton branded the attack an “act of madness”.
He tweeted: “Device thrown at local police in Short Strand last night was an act of madness that could have killed or injured police or local residents.”
The security operation in the Short Strand area continued on Saturday with roads closed to traffic.
Sinn Fein councillor in the Short Strand Niall O Donnghaile insisted the perpetrators had no community support.
“I strongly condemn those involved in this incident which has served only to cause disruption to the local community,” he said.
“Clearly somebody could have been killed or injured in this attack.
“I will say this clearly, there is no justification, rationale nor support in this community for violent attacks on the police.
“In successive elections people in this community have overwhelmingly voted for Sinn Fein and endorsed the peace strategy.
“Through tough and prolonged negotiations Sinn Fein have secured a peaceful democratic path to a united Ireland and a new Republic.
“The actions of those who would attempt to undermine that path by futile armed actions do so against the wishes of this community.
“I challenge those responsible to explain their actions to this community, something I am sure that once again they will fail to do.”