DISSIDENT terrorists tried to shoot down a PSNI heliccopter with a Hezbollah-style rocket.
But the ambush plan faltered when cops failed to respond to a bogus call of an abandoned bomb in south Armagh.
Detectives now believe the call was a vile bid to lure officers into the Cullyhanna area as part of a search operation.
Terror gang Oglaigh na hEireann then planned to shoot down the PSNI’s £5.5 million Eurocopter fitted with hi-tech infra-red cameras as it hovered overhead.
The deadly plan by ONH was hatched two weeks ago following months of surveillance on police activity.
The south Armagh/north Louth gang had concealed the 8ft long Russian-made double Katyusha-style mortar device in undergrowth beside a field along the Bog Road and Lisleitrim Road.
The mortars were fitted to a base planned and it was to be detonated by a mobile phone signal.
Similar devices have been used by Hezbollah in surface-to-air attacks on Israeli forces in the Middle East.
A member of the gang rang the Samaritans and gave a garbled message about an abandoned roadside bomb in a “very dangerous state”.
Police intelligence chiefs feared it was a trap and alerted local political representatives.
They also warned the public to be on the alert for suspicious devices in the Cullyhanna area.
And when the PSNI didn’t take the terrorist’s bait, the gang abandoned their plan and fled across the border into the Republic leaving the unstable bomb in their wake.
A senior PSNI commander said yesterday that “ruthless and mindless” dissident republicans had planned to kill police officers.
Said Chief Inspector Davy Beck: “We know only too well the death and destruction such devices can cause.
“And there is no doubt that the intention of those behind these devices is to kill police officers who serve this community on a daily basis.
“We also know how inaccurate and uncontrollable these type of devices are.
“To leave them in an area accessible to the public shows the total disregard these people have for the local community in Cullyhanna.
“Their actions can only be described as ruthless and mindless.”
The Russian-made rockets were discovered near Cullyhanna on Tuesday following a renewed police probe.
British army sniffer dogs were used along with metal detectors in a bid to trace the bomb.
Squads of police officers combed hedges and culverts for possible signs of the device.
Unionist politicians praised the police for finding the bomb.
But Sinn Fein criticised cops for not moving in sooner to defuse the bombs.
Police chiefs defended their actions saying it was a “delicate operation” given the terrain and the possibility officers were walking into a deadly ambush.
Ten families have now been allowed back into their homes. One family are still evacuated while army bomb squad continued yesterday to make safe the double mortar launcher safe following several controlled explosions.
Dissident republican gangs have been developing their bomb technology over the past 12 months.
In March, a mortar attack on Strand Road police station in Londonderry was foiled after the security services halted a van minutes after it drove over the Donegal border.
Inside were four viable devices primed and ready to launch through a hole in the van’s roof.
And in Belfast this year, a mortar bomb was found on waste ground in west Belfast pointed at Springfield Road police station.