Police are on the hunt for a man in a black hooded top who is suspected of leaving a bomb outside a busy Belfast restaurant.

The Irish Independent reports that passers-by discovered the dissident republican device only minutes before it detonated in the packed Cathedral Quarter district. No one was injured from the blast, and police have praised the passers-by for their vigilance.

At the time, police officers were acting on misleading information provided in a telephone bomb warning to the Irish News and were evacuating people from a hotel 150 meters away. After being informed of the sports bag containing the bomb, police refocused the security operation on the area around it.

Dissident group Óglaigh na hÉireann has taken responsibility for the latest in a recent surge of terror attacks by extremist republicans, the Sunday Independent reports.

Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway, the PSNI officer who lead the investigation into the blast, explained the potential of the bomb.

"This device fully functioned," he said.

"The device contained flammable liquid and explosives and it has some similarities to devices that have been used before by dissident republicans."

Galloway also praised those who noticed the bag and contacted police.

"Members of the public were vigilant and they did come forward and speak to police and it clearly averted injuries last night," he said.

He appealed to anyone who may have seen the suspect carrying the holdall in and around the Cathedral Quarter area of the city.

"Did they see a male wearing a black hoody carrying a black Slazenger bag in and around 6pm last night," he said.

"If they saw this person or anyone acting suspiciously I would ask them to come forward and speak to detectives."

Investigators are trawling through hours of CCTV footage looking for the suspect and Galloway said analysis of the footage is a key priority for the police.

"Detectives are out today and have been out through the night, it is a built up area, there is a large amount of cameras and that is definitely one line of enquiry we are following up," he said.

Security measures, including car checks at security checkpoints, have been increased in the city center and throughout Belfast and police are asking the public to be vigilant.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have both condemned the attack.

"Once again we are witnessing the work of a mindless minority who are intent on taking the heart out of the city and wreaking havoc on the lives and businesses of the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland," said Robinson.

Said McGuinness: "Their actions have done nothing to move our society forward but instead have caused distress to local residents, disruption to Christmas revelers and loss of revenue for surrounding businesses."