A huge police presence, including of checkpoints, will be deployed in Belfast city center in the run-up to Christmas following a part-exploded bomb on Sunday.
Security chiefs said they are determined to quell a surge in dissident Republican activity.
Sunday’s device was left in a car at the Victoria Square shopping center parking garage. Nobody was injured but a former senior police officer, who investigated numerous bomb atrocities during The Troubles, told the Belfast Telegraph the bomb could have proved “catastrophic.”
He said, “Had the device detonated in its entirety in an underground car park it could have been carnage. In a confined, underground space such an explosion would tear through anything or anybody in its proximity.”
A terrified driver was stopped by three masked men in Ardoyne on Sunday evening and the car was loaded with a 60 kg homemade bomb which he was ordered to drive to the garage below the shopping and entertainment complex.
After abandoning the vehicle, he ran across the road to the nearby Musgrave Street police station and raised the alarm.
The Laganside court complex and dozens of shops and offices is situated nearby.
The detonator exploded but failed to trigger the rest of the device.
Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from restaurants and a cinema as British Army bomb disposal experts were called in. The detonator went off as army personnel prepared to examine the car.
In a separate incident on Tuesday, two women thwarted a would-be carjacker in Belfast city center after grappling with the 23-year-old suspect until police arrived.
The White House has joined in condemnation of the bomb attack for which there has been no claim of responsibility, but dissident Republicans are being blamed.
A White house spokesperson said, “The United States condemns the recent cowardly acts of violence in Northern Ireland and reiterates its continued support for those who are working to build a stronger society, a vibrant economy, and an enduring peace.
“The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland are committed to the peace process and to living in a society free of the violence and hatred of the past. Over the past 15 years, the people and institutions of Northern Ireland have made great progress toward peace, stability, and prosperity. Those intent on violence will not deny Northern Ireland the opportunity to fulfill these goals.”
Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir of Sinn Fein said he was determined that the Christmas period would be “business as usual” for the city.
“There may be some roadblocks coming in to the city center, but we want to keep it moving and we want people to come in. The people who attacked Belfast want to wreck Christmas, and the rest of us aren’t going to let them,” he said.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said there would be a “very visible” police presence “in key locations at key times.”
“Police will be on foot, on bikes and conducting vehicle check points in hot-spot areas to prevent crime and reassure shoppers, revelers and motorists,” McCrum added.
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