The scene of the explosion this morning in east Belfast

The Cregagh Road in east Belfast is closed to traffic after the explosion this morning

A SERVING prison officer is under armed guard in hospital after he cheated death in a deadly under van bomb attack in east Belfast.

Detectives from the PSNI’s Terrorist Investigation Unit have launched a murder bid probe over the attack which happened at Hillsborough Drive around 7.10 am this morning.

The 52-year-old officer’s injuries are believed to be serious but not life-threatening.

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was a “disgraceful and despicable attack”.

Residents living in the area were left shocked and confused.

A man walking his daughter to school said he heard a really loud bang on Friday morning.

“I thought it was possibly a skip had fallen over, some houses being worked on down the street,” he said.

He said the possibility that it could be a bomb “did not enter his mind” and he thought it was related to construction work on the street.

Finlay Spratt from the Prison Officers Association said prison officers had continued to be targeted since the ceasefires and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

“There is no let up for prison officers, we can’t live a normal life, we’re not allowed to live a normal life by these thugs,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how often you condemn it, it just seems to go on and on and they’re attacking people who are serving the community, all the community.”

A number of residents have been moved from their homes at Hillsborough Drive and an emergency evacuation centre has been opened at the Salvation Army on the Cregagh Road.

The Woodstock Road has been closed between its junctions with Omeath Street and Ravenhill Avenue.

Traffic in the area is being diverted and the road is expected to remain closed for some time.

As a result of the incident, Euston Street Primary School in east Belfast is advising parents that the school can be accessed from Castlereagh Road.

Earlier, there were reports on social media of people hearing a loud bang in the area.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he “utterly condemned” the attack.

He said there was “no place for terrorists in my vision of a new Northern Ireland”.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said: “There can be no place for such attacks in our society.

“Those behind attacks like this represent no one and have nothing to offer the community.”

DUP MLA Robin Newton said the person or persons who planted the device “must be condemned by all right thinking people”.

“This is a despicable act and it is fortunate that we are not talking about serious injury or even a fatality today,” he said.

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