West Belfast device detonated by command wire

Police examine the scene of last night's explosion on the Falls Road. Picture: Alan Lewis, Photopress

The investigation into a bomb attack in west Belfast has revealed the device was detonated remotely, and not thrown at the vehicle as first thought.

Four officers and several members of the public were caught up in the explosion after the device was targeted at four officers inside their Landrover near the City Cemetery off the Falls Road.

No one was injured, but a family had to be treated for shock after their car was hit by shrapnel.

One adult and three children were in the passing car that was struck during the explosion, causing considerable damage to their vehicle and leaving them badly shaken. Members of the Filipino family were treated for shock. The children are aged 16, 13 and 11.

The Police Federation has warned officers to be vigilant after the attack.

Chairman Terry Spence vowed dissident republicans opposed to the peace process would not succeed in plunging the country back into full-scale conflict.

A PSNI spokesman said the device was left in place at the cemetery and detonated using a command wire.

Superintendent Barbara Gray said: “This was not only a deliberate attempt to kill police officers but was an attack on the community of west Belfast, and it is only through good fortune that no one, either police or civilian, was seriously injured or killed last night.

“As with all incidents a review of the police response will be carried out to ensure that we do everything possible to provide the highest quality response to the communities of North and West Belfast.”

Detectives are appealing for anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the area of the cemetery in recent days or anyone who has any information which may be of assistance to their investigation to contact them.

Mr Spence said: “The officers were fortunate to escape unhurt in what was a clear attempt to murder and maim. Those responsible have absolutely no regard or respect for life. It was a reckless, cowardly and futile action by individuals who have nothing to offer.”

The blast blew a chunk of masonry out of the wall of the cemetery.

Stormont justice minister David Ford said: "They are not supported and their actions are futile. The people behind this attack clearly planned it but I wonder what their plan was had members of the public been injured or killed?

“The Falls Road is a main route with a constant flow of traffic and pedestrians and it was totally irresponsible to carry out this attack on the local community.”

Sinn Féin has also blamed and condemned dissident republicans.

Officers have been urged to tighten personal security after a separate under-car bomb was found a relatively short distance away from the cemetery earlier yesterday.

Mr Spence added: “My members will continue undeterred to offer a professional service to the community. These terrorists will not succeed in their goal and I would appeal to anyone with information to get in touch with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) so that these mindless people are brought to justice.

“Police officers and the public must remain vigilant as it is the obvious intention of desperate dissident republicans to attract a headline in the run-up to St Patrick’s Day.”

The Falls Road area was busy at the time of last night's attack and 200 yards away more than 500 people were enjoying a night organised by the Feile community organisation.

Many people passed the site of the explosion, Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said. Police did not immediately attend to begin their investigation, a standard precaution against a follow-up attack.

The earlier under-car bomb fell from the vehicle and failed to explode, and even though the target has not been positively identified, the PSNI has not ruled out the possibility it was meant for one of their officers.

The device was discovered at Blacks Road, a busy route close to the M1 not far from Woodbourne police station.

Dissident republicans have been blamed for planting the bomb in what appears to have been a deliberate attempt to embarrass Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who were in Washington to meet senior members of the Obama administration as part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Similar under-car bombs have been used several times before – once to kill Constable Ronan Kerr near Omagh, Co Tyrone, in April 2011, and to seriously injure two officers in separate attacks near Castlederg, Co Tyrone, in May 2008 and Randalstown, Co Antrim, in January 2010.

There have also been attempts to kill off-duty officers in Belfast, some of them close to PSNI headquarters, and a soldier in Bangor, Co Down.

Republicans opposed to the peace process also shot dead PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in March 2009, but after the murder of prison officer David Black on the M1 in November 2012, police mounted an unprecedented surveillance operation against various factions as well making significant arrests.

KEYWORDS: PSNI, Belfast bomb
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