EXTRA police -both over and covert – are to be deployed across Belfast to thwart a new phase in the dissident republican terror campaign.
It follows an attempt by a dissident republican group to set off a 132 lb home made bomb close to the law courts in the city centre.
However, the device – packed inside a beer keg – only partially exploded at the entrance to the Victoria Centre’s underground carpark in Chichester Street on Sunday night.
A masked gang hijacked a Renault Laguna car at 9.30 pm on Sunday, placed a bomb on board and ordered the driver to take it to a shopping centre.
It exploded as Army technical officers prepared to examine the car left at the entrance to Victoria Square car park.
No-one was injured.
More police – both uniform and plain clothed – are to be deployed on the streets in an effort to prevent any further attacks in the run up to Christmas.
PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott said there had been a “surge in dissident republican activity” recently.
Last week, a bus driver was ordered to drive to a police station in Londonderry with a bomb on board.
On Saturday night, a van driver was threatened by two masked men and told to deliver a package to the same police station.
Mr Baggott added the public would see a “significant increase in police presence” in Belfast city centre over the next few weeks.
“We need people who have changed their minds and come into the peace process to give us information,” he said.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said if the bomb had fully detonated while the driver was in the car “he would have been killed outright”.
He said it was a “terrifying, shocking experience for the poor driver” adding that those behind the device were “very reckless.”
Police said a silver Renault Laguna car, registration number CJZ 4697, had been hijacked in Jamaica Street, in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.
It was then left at Victoria Square, opposite the city’s main police station, and not far from Belfast’s court complex.
A security operation began and premises were evacuated. The bomb partly exploded at about 11.15 pm.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said it was “a reckless and callous attack” that could have put many lives at risk.
“Families have been forced out of their homes and commuters delayed in their journey to work by this attempt to attack ordinary people going about their daily business,” she said.
Justice Minister David Ford said those behind the attack had nothing to offer.
“Those responsible for this attack have shown a total disregard for life, including that of the driver they forced to carry the device. They also have a disregard for the people of Belfast,” he said.
“Had the device exploded en route it could have caused untold death and injury.”
Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. of Sinn Féin, tweeted that people “won’t be deflected from Christmas cheer by micro-groups of wreckers”.
DUP councillor Guy Spence tweeted: “As the DUP rep on Belfast City Centre management board, I condemn last night’s attack on Victoria Square. I urge anyone with info to contact PSNI.”
SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney said: “It’s only good fortune that no-one was seriously injured, or worse, and those behind this have nothing to offer. Forty years of violence proved that.”