BELFAST, Dec 30 (Reuters) - An attempt by militant nationalists to kill a Northern Irish policeman was foiled when a booby trap bomb was found under his car, police said on Sunday.
The attack was the latest by splinter groups of Irish republicans opposed to British rule of the province and a 1998 peace agreement that ended 30 years of sectarian conflict.
It came two months after the first murder of a prison officer in almost 20 years and followed two weeks of rioting by pro-British loyalists protesting against restrictions on the flying of Britain's union flag from Belfast City Hall.
The bomb was discovered under the policeman's car near the Northern Irish parliament in east Belfast. His home and those of his neighbours were evacuated while army bomb disposal experts defused the device.
"Obviously there are people out there who are still intent on causing murder and mayhem. Attacks on police officers are attacks on the entire community and cannot be allowed to continue," Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said in a statement.
"Our belief is that this attempted murder was carried out by those opposed to peace from within dissident republicanism. They don't care who they attack, they don't care who they kill."
More than 3,600 people were killed in Northern Ireland when Catholic nationalists seeking union with Ireland fought British security forces and mainly Protestant loyalists determined to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Militant nationalists have stepped up attacks in recent years. As well as last month's killing of the prison officer, two soldiers and a policeman were shot dead in March 2009 and another policeman was killed by a car bomb in April 2010.