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Belfast man 'bursts into flames' in sports shop

The man ran through the Cornmarket area of Belfast with his clothes on fire

A man ‘burst into flames’ in a city centre shop in Belfast on Monday evening.

The man ran through the Cornmarket area after an incendiary device he was carrying inside his coat ignited, setting his coat on fire in the Golf Madness store, according to the shop owner.  

Nick Pierpoint told the BBC: "He seemed to be flicking at something and, I think, maybe the thing (fire bomb) had gone off and then, literally, he started to go into flames, which obviously panicked him and panicked us, and he just ran out of the shop and ran down the street.

"Obviously our first concern - no matter what his intentions were - (was) how he was, but he had absolutely scarpered and the device had fallen from him and was in flames in the street."

A Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokesman said last night: "Cornmarket in Belfast city centre has been closed by police following an incident at around 6.40pm this evening when a suspected incendiary device was left at a shop.

"The device is believed to have ignited but was removed from the premises by staff and left outside."

The area was sealed off for nearly four hours while Army experts examine the device. A police cordon was lifted at approximately 10.30pm.

The PSNI spokesman added: "Police are advising city centre businesses to check their premises for any suspicious objects."

The incident comes after a bomb exploded just a few hundred metres away in the bustling Cathedral Quarter area of Belfast Christmas near busy bars and restaurants. A sports bag with a small explosive inside ignited on the pavement in the city's Cathedral Quarter.

The army also defused a pipe bomb found in the garden of a house in West Belfast on Monday during a security alert and a number of homes were evacuated while bomb disposal officers examined the device. 

Police have stepped up their presence since masked men forced a terrified driver to bring a bomb into a Belfast city centre car park.

The escalation by extremists opposed to the peace process has also included posting letter bombs to senior police commanders and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.