A suspected pipe bomb was detonated close to a police operation in Belfast as violence that saw hijackings and torched vehicles spread across Northern Ireland.
The blast went off as officers worked to clear a loyalist bonfire that threatened to rage out of control on a night of tension in Northern Ireland’s capital.
People were held at Belfast City Airport as police warned that loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) were planning to ‘orchestrate and participate in serious disorder’ in east Belfast.
Masked men also used burning cars to block roads close to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on the outskirts of the city. A bus with passengers on board was hijacked before being set alight in nearby Newtownards.
The violence came after loyalists expressed anger at moves to limit the size of bonfires at two controversial sites ahead of traditional Twelfth of July Orange parades today.
Hundreds of ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires were lit at midnight across Northern Ireland as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
By 1 am today, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) had received a total of 327 emergency calls, mobilised to 164 operational incidents – 57 of which were bonfire-related.
Fire officers said the figures represented a 23% increase on incidents attended last year, with the regional control centre at times handling an emergency 999 call every 48 seconds.
Fire engines came under attack on three occasions, at Carn Hill in Londonderry, Moygashel near Dungannon and Ballycarry/Whitehead. No firefighters were injured.
While the majority of huge Eleventh Night fires in Northern Ireland pass off without incident each year, in recent times there have been community tensions in east Belfast over the size of pyres, with many residents fearful of potential damage to their properties.
Police said the threat from the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in east Belfast was directed at officers.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd last night said: ‘I would strongly urge people to desist from engaging in any violent or criminal behaviour.
‘I would also appeal to those who have influence in this community to discourage people from taking part in any illegal activity.
‘The safety of the public and my officers is of paramount importance and accordingly I will be reviewing my resourcing plans to ensure there is an appropriate and proportionate policing operation in place to deal with any disorder should it occur.’