A thwarted car bomb murder bid on a policeman in Northern Ireland was an attack on the entire community, Stormont's Justice Minister has said.

Police have blamed dissident republicans for placing the booby trap device under the officer's car in east Belfast. They said the unexploded viable bomb, which was discovered by the off duty policeman on Sunday afternoon, was clearly intended to kill.

His car was parked at his home on the Upper Newtownards Road - a busy arterial route into the city centre.

The scene, which was sealed off until late on Sunday night amid an extensive security and forensic operation, is close to Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) headquarters at Knock and the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

Justice Minister David Ford condemned those responsible.

"Fortunately, due to the officer's commendable vigilance, the attempt on his life was not successful," he said.

"Let us be clear. This was an attack not only on a police officer and his family but on our whole community. The officer was serving the community; he was working for all of us. It is ironic that this latest attack was carried out so close to Stormont, where those who are democratically elected seek to move matters forward through debate.

"The people responsible for this and other recent attacks have no mandate and speak for no-one. They need to recognise the futility of their campaign and respect the wishes of the vast majority of our community who want an end to all violent acts."

Residents of nearby homes were evacuated in the alert. A local church opened its doors to offer shelter while army technical officers (ATO) worked to make the scene safe.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said it was very fortunate no one was killed or injured. He said: "Initial investigations would indicate that this was a viable device placed below an officer's car some time in the last 48 hours. It was clearly intended to kill the police officer. His family and neighbours in the vicinity were also put at risk of serious harm. Obviously there are people out there who are still intent on causing murder and mayhem."