PSNI on high alert after bomb found under officer's car

Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 00:00

A third man was arrested last night by detectives investigating the attempted murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland.

A 41-year-old man was detained in west Belfast.

Two others, aged 25 and 34, were arrested in Belfast on Monday and were still in police custody last night.

Assistant chief constable George Hamilton said a bomb placed under the car of the PSNI officer in east Belfast on Sunday afternoon could have killed the policeman and his family. Police have been warned to be on high alert against further dissident attacks.

The senior PSNI officer said had the bomb exploded it could have resulted in “multiple” deaths, as he appealed for public assistance in tracing the dissident republicans suspected of planting the device.

The bomb was placed under the officer’s car on the Upper Newtownards Road not far from PSNI headquarters at Knock.

The officer was bringing his wife and two young children to lunch when he took the precaution of checking under his vehicle, discovering the device which was defused by a British army bomb-disposal squad.

“If that officer had not checked under his car we would have been looking at a murder or multiple murders,” said Mr Hamilton.

“We are very grateful that this officer acted in the way he did and checked his car, otherwise the consequences would have been absolutely devastating for him and his family.”

Similar bombs were responsible for killing Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh in 2011 and injuring Constable Peadar Heffron as he drove to work in Randalstown, Co Antrim in 2010.

The attack comes not long after the dissident republican ambush near Lurgan, Co Antrim, in November that resulted in the murder of prison officer David Black.

The fact that a dissident attack could happen so close to PSNI headquarters in the predominantly unionist constituency of east Belfast will be an additional cause of worry to the PSNI. A further concern is that it happened at a time of volatility in loyalist circles because of the controversy over restricting the flying of the British union flag over Belfast City Hall.

Over the last five years 64 police officers were forced to leave their homes because of dissident attacks and targeting, according to the PSNI.

Mr Hamilton warned that the dissident threat remained “severe” and that all officers must continue to be vigilant.

“This murderous type of attack is not the way forward for our society,” he said.

“No one is entitled to take the life of another human being in circumstances such as this. Our appeal is for the vast majority of people to stand up against this rump of anti-peace dissident republicanism.”

Police Federation head Terry Spence said he was seeking an urgent meeting with PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott to discuss the current threat.

Bishop of Down and Connor Dr Noel Treanor “this cold act of calculated terror, perpetrated in this Christmas season of peace and goodwill ... is utterly reprehensible.”

In a separate incident on Monday night, a “viable” pipe bomb was found close to the gates of a PSNI station in Tandragee, Co Armagh.