Northern Ireland’s police officers were warned to be extra-vigilant in the run-up to Saint Patrick’s Day today after they were targeted in a bomb attack that narrowly avoided killing a passing family from then Philippines.
The bomb was left in the City Cemetery in west Belfast, by the Irish Republican community’s Falls Road stronghold, and detonated near a police vehicle patrol late on Friday using a command wire.
Though targeting four officers in their vehicle, the blast damaged the car of a Filipino family, peppering it with shrapnel.
The one adult and three children aged 16, 13 and 11 inside were all badly shaken and treated for shock.
“This was not only a deliberate attempt to kill police officers but was an attack on the community of west Belfast, and it is only through good fortune that no-one, either police or civilian was seriously injured or killed,” a police spokeswoman said on Saturday.
It was initially thought the device was thrown at the police vehicle, but further investigation showed it was detonated by a command wire, blowing masonry out of the cemetery wall.
The attack came just hours after a bomb was found nearby, having fallen off a vehicle and failed to explode.
Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation body that represents officers, said: “Police officers and the public must remain vigilant as it is the obvious intention of desperate dissident republicans to attract a headline in the run-up to Saint Patrick’s Day,” when people celebrate the island of Ireland’s patron saint.
Dissident Irish republicans are violently opposed to the peace process and power-sharing between Northern Ireland’s broadly Protestant, British unionist and Catholic, Irish nationalist communities.
“These terrorists will not succeed in their goal,” Spence added.
Mainstream republicans Sinn Fein also blamed and condemned dissidents.
“This attack is a blatant disregard not just for lives of police officers, but also for safety of whole community in west Belfast,” British Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said.
“It should be condemned by all right-thinking people,” she said.
Northern Ireland unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and his Sinn Fein deputy, Martin McGuinness, are in Washington to meet senior members of US President Barack Obama’s administration as part of the Saint Patrick’s Day build-up.
Northern Ireland endured three decades of civil unrest between loyalist unionists who wanted the province to stay part of Britain and republicans who wanted it to join with the Republic of Ireland to the south.
The 1998 Good Friday peace accords largely ended the violence and paved the way for a devolved power-sharing government, although dissident republican groups opposed to peace are still active.