Dissident Republicans have failed in a bid to kill a policeman in a callous end of year car bomb attack in east Belfast.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed that the vigilance of the officer saved his life in the attack on Sunday.

Local politician Conall McDevitt, the SDLP representative for the area and a member of the Policing Board, praised the unnamed officer.

McDevitt told the Irish Times that the officer was about to drive to work on Sunday afternoon in the Upper Newtownards Road area of east Belfast when he decided to check under his vehicle.

The decision saved the officer from death or serious injury according to MLA deputy McDevitt.

The paper reports that police were alerted and a British army bomb-disposal squad called out to defuse what was described as a ‘viable’ device.

The bomb is believed to be similar to that which killed PSNI officer Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh in April 2011.

A number of houses on the Upper Newtownards Road were evacuated as bomb disposal experts dealt with the device.

PSNI assistant chief constable George Hamilton told reporters that it was ‘very fortunate’ that the device was detected before it exploded and that no one was killed or seriously injured.

Hamilton said: “Initial investigations would indicate that this was a viable device placed below an officer’s car sometime in the last 48 hours.

“It was clearly intended to kill the police officer. His family and neighbours in the vicinity were also put at risk of serious harm.

“Obviously there are people out there who are still intent on causing murder and mayhem. Attacks on police officers are attacks on the entire community and cannot be allowed to continue.”

The assistant chief constable added: “We know there are people within our communities who know who did this. We know there are people out there who know exactly what is being planned. My plea to them is not to allow this small minority to drag us back to the past.

“Our belief is that this attempted murder was carried by those opposed to peace from within dissident republicanism.

“They don’t care who they attack, they don’t care who they kill. They are simply anti-peace and determined to carry on bringing pain and devastation to families and communities by maiming and killing.”

SDLP representative McDevitt said the officer’s vigilance may have saved his life and urged all other officers to be equally careful and attentive to their security.

McDevitt said: “The attempt to murder the officer was cynical and deplorable.

“Those seeking to target police officers are undermining not only the stated will of the people of Ireland, who have long since rejected violence, but also the desire for a new beginning for policing in the North, which is shared by the majority of citizens.”

East Belfast DUP MLA Robin Newton told the Irish Times that those who placed the bomb had nothing to offer the community except ‘heartache and sorrow’.

Newton said: “Northern Ireland wants to keep moving forward. The vast majority of the community rejects such evil deeds. However, it is only by the co-operation of the community with the police that this small group of people who are wedded to terror can be removed from our streets.”

Army bomb disposal officers prepare to carry out a controlled explosion on a bomb discovered under a police officer's car on the Upper Newtownards Road, East BelfastReuters