A soldier opened the sweet tin, which contained 2lb of Semtex plastic explosives, but the device did not go off.
He had been given the tin, together with a bottle of whiskey, by a woman in her twenties as he carried out checkpoint duties in Co Tyrone on Sunday night. The woman, who was driving a car, wished him 'Happy Christmas'.
The soldier, serving with the Coldstream Guards, stored the tin in his locker at his base in Cookstown, and opened it on Tuesday night. The bomb was concealed under several layers of chocolates.
Members of the security forces often receive Christmas gifts from members of the public, and are warned to be on the look-out.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, condemned the attack as repulsive. He said: 'A lethal present handed to soldiers with wishes of a Merry Christmas says it all. It is no different in its unspeakable character from the shooting by loyalists at the weekend of a father wrapping Christmas presents with his five-year-old daughter.'
The incident is the latest in a long series in which the IRA and other terrorist groups have aimed to kill with booby-trap devices.
On one occasion at Crossmaglen in South Armagh a tricolour flag had been booby-trapped, and when a soldier climbed a telegraph pole to remove it he was killed. In another instance a man was killed on a country road when he picked up a booby-trapped 'girlie' magazine which had been left for troops.
Republicans in Belfast once booby-trapped a shotgun, then telephoned police about its whereabouts. Police collected it and were examining it when it exploded, killing two officers.Reuse content