The PSNI believes officers were lured to the site of the suspected dissident bomb attack in Co Fermanagh in attempt to kill and injure them.
PSNI deputy chief constable Stephen Martin told a press conference in Belfast: “The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism has not decreased and has remained at severe since 2009.
“Today we have seen another example of the intent dissident republicans have as they attempted to murder police officers and army personnel in Co Fermanagh.
“They are reckless and indiscriminate, and this morning’s attack had the potential to kill anyone in the immediate vicinity.
“I am of the firm belief it was a deliberate attempt to lure police and army bomb disposal colleagues into the area to murder them.”
The explosion happened in the Wattle Bridge area near Newtownbutler near the Border on Monday at about 10.30am.
Police officers and members of a British army bomb disposal team narrowly avoided injury in the explosion.
The PSNI said its officers and a British army bomb disposal team had been dealing with a suspicious device in the area of the Cavan Road at its junction with the Wattle Bridge Road since Sunday. They believe it was a hoax device to bring police and army personnel to the area.
The attack was described as “indiscriminate and reckless” by Mr Martin.
He had earlier said police received a report that a suspect device had been left in the area of Wattle Bridge on Saturday evening. The area was secured by police and a full clearance operation began on Sunday morning.
“The initial report received by police indicated that a device had been left on the Wattle Bridge Road. However the explosion occurred on the main A3 Cavan Road,” he explained.
Mr Martin said the area around the scene will remain closed for some time while officers conduct their investigations and ensure the area is safe.
“I ask that anyone who may be able to help our investigation and identify the perpetrators of this sinister and potentially murderous attack to please come forward.
“You can call us on 101 or if you would prefer information can be given anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Gardaí closed several roads on the southern side of the Border at the request of the PSNI.
Given the proximity of the attack to the Border, it is likely investigators will focus on the possibility the bombers were dissidents republicans who fled south. However, as yet there has been no formal request to the Garda for assistance in the investigation.
The Taoiseach has strongly condemned the those responsible. “I strongly condemn the cowardly actions of those responsible for this bomb attack, which could have had devastating consequences,” he said.
“There is never any justification to use violence to achieve political aims. The people of Ireland, North and South, had their say on this issue when they voted overwhelmingly and emphatically for the Good Friday Agreement.”
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan called the attack a “despicable act perpetrated by persons with no regard for law, order or democratic principles.”
“I am determined to ensure that we will not go back to the bad old days and I fully support the work of the PSNI in tackling this form of indiscriminate, cowardly violence. An Garda Síochána will be liaising with their colleagues in the PSNI and I would urge anyone with information on this attack to come forward to the authorities.”
DUP leader and MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Arlene Foster said her thoughts were with the PSNI officers and British bomb disposal officers who escaped injury. It was a reminder “of the bravery of our security forces”, she said.
“The threat from republican terrorists still exists. It’s time they left the stage and allowed everyone to move on. This was a clear attempt to kill,” added Ms Foster.
In a statement, Ms Foster described those behind the attack as “opportunists who want nothing more than to cause fear and destruction”.
“They will not be allowed to succeed,” she added.
Minister for Health Simon Harris described the attack as “despicable, regressive and a throwback to an Ireland no-one needs to go back to”.
“It should remind us all of the fragility of peace and the importance of continuing to nurture the peace process and restoring the institutions.”
‘Crime that has no support’
SDLP Fermanagh councillor Adam Gannon said: “Murdering or maiming police officers achieves no goals and it is a crime that has no support in Fermanagh.
“No-one here wants to see members of our community killed in their name.”
SDLP policing board member Dolores Kelly paid tribute to officers who worked over the weekend to make the area safe.
“They continue to work hard to keep communities like this safe and today’s incident is another reminder of the serious threat that they operate under.
“There is no place for this in the society we’ve created.”
She said the SDLP will be meeting with the chief constable later this week and will be raising the security threat in border communities as an urgent matter.
Local Ulster Unionist Party Assembly member Rosemary Barton said she was “absolutely disgusted to hear that yet again republican terrorists have tried to murder police and army technical officers in Co Fermanagh”.
“This is a despicable crime and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. My thoughts are with the police officers and soldiers who thankfully escaped injury in this cowardly attack,” she said.
"For many years the people of this area were subject to a terrorist campaign of murder and intimidation resulting in people being forced to move from their homes. Now once again the lawabiding people of this area are being targeted. This has happened several times within the past year. Sadly terrorists are still at work in our society." – Additional reporting from PA