Dissident republicans attempted to lure police and Army personnel to their deaths in Northern Ireland, a senior officer has said.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin was speaking after an explosion on Monday morning, which came as a security operation was under way following a report of a suspicious object on Saturday evening.
No one was injured in the blast at Wattle Bridge, close to Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.
Mr Martin said it was a “deliberate attempt” to lure police and troops into the area to murder them.
“This attack was indiscriminate and reckless and, whilst there is no doubt in my mind that police responding to this call were the target, the reality is that anyone could have been caught up in the explosion,” he said.
“We are extremely fortunate that the actions of officers who were first on scene meant that there was not serious injury or death.”
The incident on the Irish border has been widely condemned by DUP leader Arlene Foster, Fermanagh MP Michelle Gildernew, Secretary of State Julian Smith and Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar.
Bomb disposal officers had been in the area at the weekend responding to reports that a device had been left there.
The item was ultimately declared a hoax but another device exploded close by at around 10.35am on Monday when a bomb disposal team was reviewing the scene. Police were also in attendance, patrolling a security cordon.
Mr Martin told a press conference at PSNI headquarters in Belfast: “We are of the belief this attack has been carried out by dissident republican groupings.
“The two who have been most active this year in Northern Ireland have been the Continuity IRA and the New IRA, and I think one of those groups would be a very good starting point for the investigation.
“Those who made, transported and deployed this device should explain their actions to the people of Co Fermanagh and Northern Ireland.
“They bring nothing to society, they showed no regard when they entered a public road in a public space to create nothing other than inconvenience and disruption to the local community and attempted to murder public servants.
“There are people within our community who know who did this. My message to them today is simple – please step forward and do the right thing and provide the information to police that will allow us to bring the perpetrators before the courts.”
Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, labelled the attack as the actions of “depraved and sick republican terrorists with nothing but misery to offer”.
Dissident extremists continue to target members of the security forces in Northern Ireland.
Last month, a booby trap bomb was left on the Tullygally Road in Craigavon, Co Armagh, as police attended a call-out from a member of the public.
Commanders said the call was a set-up to lure officers into the area.
In June, a serving police officer had a lucky escape when he found a booby trap bomb attached to the underside of his vehicle in a golf club car park in east Belfast.
Ms Foster tweeted her condemnation of the latest incident, describing the explosion as a “clear attempt to kill”, while Mr Smith said he is “following developments closely”.
Mr Varadkar condemned the “cowardly actions of those responsible”, adding the explosion could have had “devastating consequences”.
Sinn Fein MP Ms Gildernew said: “This morning’s bomb attack in Wattle Bridge was totally wrong.
“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 on this should bring it forward to the PSNI.”