Officers have escaped injury in a bomb attack in Northern Ireland, which police say was a “deliberate attempt” to lure them there “to murder them”.
The device detonated on Monday morning as police and army bomb disposal officers were searching the area near Newtownbutler in Co Fermanagh.
Bomb disposal officers had been in the area at the weekend responding to reports of a suspicious device – which was later declared a hoax.
Another device exploded close-by at around 10.35am on Monday when a bomb disposal team was attending to review the scene.
Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin says he is “of the firm belief this was a deliberate attempt to lure police and ATO (Ammunition Technical Officers) colleagues into the area to murder them.”
He called the attack “indiscriminate and reckless” and said “there is no doubt in my mind that police responding to this call were the target”.
He told a news conference that although the investigation is in its early stages, he “strongly suspects” the attack was carried out by the Continuity IRA or the New IRA.
Mr Martin said the threat from Northern Ireland related terrorism “has not decreased and has remained severe since 2009”.
“There people within our community who know who did this, my message to them is simple: please step forward and do the right thing.”
He added police have located what they believe to be the site of the explosion, saying: “If a person had been standing next to the device they would have been seriously injured or killed.”
Mr Martin said he “wished to reserve” information regarding how close the officers were to the explosion.
DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted: “My thoughts are with the police officers / ATOs who escaped injury in Wattle Bridge. A reminder of the bravery of our security forces.
“The threat from republican terrorists still exists. It’s time they left the stage & allowed everyone to move on. This was a clear attempt to kill.”
Dissident republicans continue to target members of the security forces in Northern Ireland.
Mr Martin appealed for help to “identify the perpetrators of this sinister and potentially murderous attack”.
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne tweeted: “The bomb attack in Fermanagh this morning is a sinister development. A clear and deliberate attempt to murder @PoliceServiceNI officers.
“I strongly condemn these actions and express my sincere thanks to both the Officers and Army personnel for their work in securing the area.”
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew condemned the attack.
“This morning’s bomb attack in Wattle Bridge was totally wrong,” the Sinn Fein representative said.
“Thankfully no one was injured in this incident but we could have been dealing with a situation where people were seriously injured or worse.
“Those responsible for this incident have nothing to offer society and need to end these actions immediately.”
Anyone with information can call 101 with information or contact police anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.