Police officer's partner injured in bomb attack

Republicans suspected over car blast in quiet part of east Belfast

Dissident republicans in Belfast carried out a failed attack on a police officer yesterday, adding a new dimension to dangers posed by splinter groups who refuse to accept that the conflict in Northern Ireland is over.

The officer's partner was hurt when a bomb exploded as she drove off in her car. Her injuries were slight and she was later released from hospital.

The attack took place in a part of east Belfast where dissidents have not previously been active, which means that the authorities will have to carry out a major review of the capabilities of groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA.

The incident took place shortly after 7am as the woman left home in her two-seater sports car. A device exploded almost instantly, damaging the vehicle but inflicting only minor injuries. The device had been placed at the passenger's side of the car, the attackers evidently believing that the officer would be travelling on that side of the vehicle.

Chief Superintendent Brian Maguire said: "The Army has confirmed this was a viable device capable of causing death or serious injury. Had the person possibly been sitting on the passenger side of the car you'd probably be talking about a fatality.

"There are still people out there in today's society who are still intent on causing murder and mayhem."

The woman's life may have been saved by the fact that republicans have for years used a simple method of moulding explosives so that almost all of the blast goes in one direction.

The murder attempt took place in Kingsdale Park, a residential part of east Belfast several miles from the city centre. It is predominantly Protestant and largely middle-class so is not natural territory for republican terrorists.

Police headquarters is not far from the scene of the bombing. One question is how dissidents were able to collect information on police personnel.

The main concern for the authorities is that many police families live in the district and regard it as safe. An assessment will now be made of whether the dissidents could repeat the incident and whether this extension of their campaign means police families should move. Re-settling police in this way is distressing and costly.

Dissident groups have been highly active this year, killing three members of the security forces in the spring and launching attacks on police across Northern Ireland, and the security forces have diverted resources towards combating the threat.

In the past week, one republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army, announced that it was going out of business, but it is clear that at least three other groups remain active and have access to explosives.

The attack yesterday was condemned by politicians and other commentators, including by the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.