Three police officers hurt by explosive in N.Ireland

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Three police officers were hurt after an explosive device was thrown at them in Northern Ireland in an attack that a senior officer said Saturday could have resulted in "mass murder".

One officer remained in hospital with severe injuries to his arm which required further surgery.

A number of uniformed police and detectives were investigating a robbery at a bookmakers in Belfast on Friday when a man rode by on a bicycle and hurled an explosive at them, Superintendent Alan Todd, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said.

The device exploded on the ground, producing flying debris which hit the officers and narrowly missed people nearby.

Todd told BBC radio: "This was a clear attempt to murder officers. This could have been a mass murder investigation this morning, not only of officers at the scene but indeed the members of that community who were going about their normal business on what is a shopping street.

"This was an indiscriminate and reckless attack aimed at killing police officers but with complete disregard to what might have happened to members of that community."

He said it was too early to assess the nature of the explosive device, although police do not believe it was connected to the robbery.

"What is clear is that the people responsible have complete disregard for the local people in the area and the wishes of the wider public," he said.

Last weekend, police found and disarmed two bombs, one near Belfast airport, in incidents they blamed on dissident groups intent on taking the British-ruled province "back to mayhem and misery".

For three decades, Northern Ireland was scarred by murders and bombings, with Catholic nationalists fighting pro-British Protestant unionists, until peace accords in 1998 largely ended the violence known as the "Troubles".

However, a British government watchdog said this week that dissident groups opposed to the peace process continued to present "a substantial and potentially lethal threat".

But the government said it would close down the watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission, because the current violence "in no way matches the range and tempo of the Troubles."

© 2010 AFP

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