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Failed Belfast car bomb attack highlights dissident threat

Authorities in Belfast are breathing a sigh of relief after a car bomb failed to fully explode in front of a police headquarters there. The attack highlights the danger dissident militant groups still present.

Forensic officers outside the police headquarters, near the site where the car bomb was found

The bomb, had it fully exploded, could have led to a "very serious loss of life," police say

A potentially devastating bomb attack on a police headquarters in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Saturday night failed when a massive car bomb did not detonate fully.

On Sunday, police said the 180-kilogram (400-pound) device would have caused "widespread destruction" had it functioned as planned.

It is thought that the attack was launched by dissident republicans intent on undermining the province's fragile peace process.

A car crashed through barriers and onto the grounds of the supervisory Northern Ireland Policing Board in Belfast's dockland area on Saturday evening. Two people were seen running away before the vehicle burst into flames, but failed to blow up.

The building, which was undamaged, is the headquarters of a cross-community panel that oversees police operations. As such, it is a symbol of efforts to bring the UK-loyalist Protestant and Irish nationalist Catholic communities together.

Police on Sunday said they had arrested two men near the border with Ireland, suspected of being behind the failed attack.

Sensitive time

Those responsible have been condemned for trying to derail peace negotiations, which are at a critical stage.

Loyalist and nationalist politicians are currently at loggerheads over when responsibility for policing and justice should return to the province. Currently, those functions are carried out by politicians in London.

A woman walks past an Irish republican mural, showing a fighting scene

Violence between the Protestant and Catholic communities haunted the province for decades

"Very clearly these people are trying to undermine the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent years," said Britain's Northern Ireland Security Minister Paul Goggins,

"When attacks like these happen, it brings people together with the strong message that these dissidents will not succeed," he said.

Police said that they were doing everything possible to stop attacks.

"It is a reckless act, not just in doing damage but also the potential loss of life," said Northern Ireland's police chief, Matt Baggott. "This attack is an attack on the well-being of everybody in Northern Ireland," he said.

Flare-up of violence

Northern Ireland was troubled by violence between Catholic and Protestant communities for three decades before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 ushered in a period of relative peace.

But two British soldiers and a police officer were killed in March this year, highlighting the renewed threat posed by dissident paramilitary groups.

Earlier this month, the Independent Monitoring Commission said the danger posed by militant splinter groups was "very serious."

In a separate incident on Saturday, gunmen ambushed and shot at police in a village on the border with the Republic of Ireland. No police were hurt and three people were arrested.


Editor: Kyle James

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