BELFAST (AFP) — An incendiary bomb partially exploded in a Belfast city centre shop on Tuesday, in what was the first such attack for some time in Northern Ireland.
The device, in a sports store on the main Royal Avenue shopping street, is thought to have partially gone off early Tuesday, before being found by staff arriving for work.
Such attacks were relatively commonplace during the three decades of sectarian bloodshed between Protestants and Catholics that was largely ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.
Army bomb disposal experts worked through the day before declaring the area safe.
"The callous disregard for human life shown by those who planted this device ... is almost impossible to comprehend," said police Chief Inspector Trevor O'Neill.
"This is one of the busiest stores in one of the busiest streets in Belfast and it does not bear thinking about what might have happened if the device had detonated fully and when the store was full of shoppers."
Elsewhere Tuesday, Northern Ireland's outgoing First Minister Ian Paisley said he would leave office confident that the days of terrorism and sectarian bloodshed were firmly in the past.
"After all those years of instability, unaccountable government and economic turmoil, a difference is being made," said the 82-year-old, who is expected to step down over the weekend.
"We are beginning to transform our society. We are embracing change.
"We must ensure that this younger generation grow up into young adults not in fear, not in despair, not in horror.
"Northern Ireland has grown in confidence ... we have to finish the job and rid ourselves, once and for all, of the bad old days."
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