THE PSNI have revealed that three police officers cheated death in a dissident republican motorway bomb attack.
The officers – two male and a female – were responding to a call in the Hazelbank area of north Belfast at around 9.15pm on Saturday.
It was the third time on Saturday that polic officers had been called to the area.
However, unknown to the officers, bombers were about to set a deadly trap.
They were making their way along the Duncrue towpath at the time of the attack when the bomb exploded, which police are now treating as attempted murder.
Police say they believe the officers were the intended target of the “terrorist attack”.
Although police have not yet apportioned blame, it is believed to have been the work of dissident republicans.
They confirmed that an explosive device had detonated after searches, involving police helicopters and army bomb experts, were conducted in the area on Sunday.
Detectives have revealed that the bomb was a “sophisticated device” but have given no further details at present.
No one was injured in the attack; however a PSNI spokeswoman said the officers were left badly shaken.
Detective Chief Insp Karen Baxter of the PSNI’S Serious Crime Branch said it was too early to attribute responsibility but they were treating it as a “terrorist attack”.
“There was a significant degree of planning involved and this was a sophisticated device.
“The people that left this have been reckless with their intentions,” she said.
“They don’t care who they kill – but the target was very clearly officers.”
There had been two previous call-outs to police on Saturday alleging a crime had been committed in the area.
Police said one line of inquiry is whether the officers were lured there.
“The officers were doing a cursory search of the area when the device went off,” DCI Baxter said.
“It was placed on an extremely busy pathway – I would urge anyone who saw anything unusual in the area in the hours or days before, to come forward.”
District Commander Chief Superintendent Henry Irvine said his colleagues were lucky to be alive.
Condemning the attack, he said: “This is a well-known area that is used every day by members of the local community. It is only by good fortune that police officers and members of the public were not killed or seriously injured last night.”
Police say they are extremely keen to speak to anyone who may have witnessed any unusual activity or suspicious vehicles between the early hours of Friday morning and 9pm on Saturday.
Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives in Newtownabbey.
The M5, which was closed between Hazelbank and Greencastle for almost 24 hours, has reopened.
The Duncrue towpath remains closed from Dargin to Fortwilliam as forensice searches continue.
A number of items have been removed from the scene for further forensic examination.