Police have said a bomb which was left outside the gates of a primary school in north Belfast could have killed or seriously injured.
It was discovered by a passing police patrol near Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School in Ardoyne in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Ch Supt Chris Noble said the device was “sizeable” and an attempt by dissident republicans to kill police officers.
He said the lives of the local community had also been put at risk.
“There’s no doubt that device was there to try and kill community police officers on the beat in their local area but also it was left in such a reckless manner and in such a reckless location that it would undoubtedly have led to the death or serious injury of a member of the public had it exploded anywhere near them,” he said.
“This is an attempt, we believe, by violent dissident republicans to kill police officers but it was also very much an “anti-community act” as well, in terms of where it was located and the way in which it was left.”
The senior officer appealed for anyone with information to contact them to help police “gather the bits of the jigsaw”.
The Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, condemned those who had left the bomb in the area.
“Those who are involved in this need to get off the people’s backs and they need to go away,” he said.
“The message is as simple and straightforward as that, we could have been dealing with death here, thankfully, we’re not.”
About 20 residents had to leave their homes during the security operation and were taken to a nearby community centre – they have since been allowed to return.
SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the incident had caused distress to those living in the area.
“In total there were over 20 homes evacuated,” he said.
“One young girl, a six-year-old, you could see the fear when you were speaking to her and she said [was] woken up by her mum and had to leave the house.
“She told me she actually thought she was dreaming and her and her mum were very frightened.”
The chair of the Policing Board, Anne Connolly, also condemned the attack, saying: ‘Leaving an explosive device in the heart of the community shows the recklessness of those responsible as anyone could have been caught up in this.
“I’m grateful that the device was found and the attempt to harm our police officers thwarted.”
The school’s vice-principal, Chris Donnelly, said: “There was a device that had been left at the entrance to the school which is obviously very disconcerting for people who had to be taken from their beds and moved.”
He added that a lot of young people gather in the area in the evening.
Pupils are due to return to Holy Cross on Monday after the Easter break.