Dissident republicans left a bomb at the gates of a primary school in Northern Ireland in an attempt to murder police, a senior officer has said.
The device, described as viable, significant and reckless, was discovered in an alleyway beside Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School in Ardoyne, North Belfast shortly before midnight on Saturday.
People in twenty homes in a row of terraced houses in the Herbert Street area had to be evacuated while the bomb squad was called in.
They included families, pensioners and a six-year-old girl, who local representatives said was frightened and left in tears after being taken from her bed in the middle of the night.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said the bomb plot was provocative as the Holy Cross school name is synonymous with vicious and traumatic sectarian protests a decade and a half ago which targeted Catholic schoolgirls.
“It’s a very significant device more than capable of causing death and serious injury,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that device was there to try and kill community police officers on the beat in their local area, but also it was left in such a reckless manner and in such a reckless location that it would have undoubtedly led to the death or serious injury of a member of the public had it exploded anywhere near them.”
Mr Noble said he was in no doubt that dissident republicans were behind the incident in an attempt to kill police officers.
The alleyway where the device was found is used by local people coming and going as a route to and from local houses, and it was also said to be where local young people gather.
The PSNI appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious around midnight to come forward.
“All we need are the bits of the jigsaw to try and understand who was in the area, what people saw, because that’s what detectives can then build their investigation on,” Mr Noble said.
Sinn Fein MLA for the area Gerry Kelly said the device was designed to kill.
“I condemn it outright,” he said.
“Those behind it have no regard whatsoever for this community and they need to end these futile acts.”
Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said those behind the attack wanted to murder or maim officers.
“They didn’t care if passers-by or children out playing in the area were caught up in an explosion. It was an entirely reckless act,” he said.
“This appears to have been a deadly, anti-personnel-type weapon. Thankfully, it was recovered and removed without being detonated.
“The attackers are terrorising people who live in the area and preventing them from getting on with their everyday lives.”
Local SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the threat was a chilling reminder that some people are still intent on taking life and causing injury in the community.
He said: “There can be no justification for this kind of attack on our community.”
Secretary of State James Brokenshire said: “I am sickened by this incident with dissident republican terrorists placing a bomb close to a primary school in north Belfast.
“This shows their wanton disregard for human life, potentially putting children in danger.
“The consequences could have been utterly devastating and it shows them for what they really are.
“I am grateful to the emergency services for their work in keeping people safe.”
Police later clarified the device was discovered on Brookfield Street in Ardoyne, which runs off Herbert Street and near a community centre, after it had been placed by the school gates.
They also said some people with disabilities were among those who had to be taken from their homes in the middle of the night.
A number of controlled explosions were carried out at the scene and the device was taken away for forensic analysis.