Police in Northern Ireland have arrested three men after the apparent attempted murder of two officers in a bomb attack on Thursday night.

A suspected improvised explosive device damaged a police vehicle in the town of Strabane in County Tyrone about 11pm. The two officers escaped unharmed.

Detectives from the terrorism investigation unit arrested three men – aged 36, 36 and 28 – under the Terrorism Act after conducting a number of searches in Strabane on Friday night.

Residents in the Mount Carmel Heights area had described hearing a loud bang. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it appeared to have been a targeted attack and it was being treated as attempted murder. A security alert in Strabane on Friday affected hundreds of homes.

We can confirm that an ongoing security alert in the Mount Carmel Heights area of Strabane appears to have been a targeted attack on police shortly before 11pm last night, Thursday November 17th. pic.twitter.com/9zz6Nu8lLG

— Police Derry City and Strabane (@PSNIDCSDistrict) November 18, 2022

Suspicion fell on dissident republicans, who have staged sporadic attacks on police and prison service staff in recent years. The New IRA has a small base of support in Derry, 14 miles north of Strabane.

Police representatives and politicians condemned the attack. “The terrorist goal was to cause heartache and misery and return Northern Ireland to the dark ages,” said Liam Kelly, the chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland. “Nothing is gained by such a callous, hate-filled incident. The terrorist threat is rated ‘substantial’ and I would appeal to all officers to step up their vigilance.”

Kelly said the attack “will not deter our colleagues from doing their job with professionalism and dedication”.

The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said any attempt to murder or injure police officers was shocking and had to be condemned. He spoke during a visit to the Northern Ireland border town of Newry.

Maolíosa McHugh, a Sinn Féin member of the Stormont assembly, said the attack could have ended in tragedy. “There is no place for this type of activity in our society and those responsible should get off the backs of the community,” he said.

Derek Hussey, an Ulster Unionist party alderman, said the attackers were cowards and thugs. “Any support they have is minuscule, because the people of Strabane and the rest of Northern Ireland have repeatedly shown that they want nothing to do with this type of madness.”

Dissident republicans who reject the peace process and consider the Provisional IRA sellouts have carried out intermittent violence since the Good Friday agreement, including the murder of the writer Lyra McKee during a riot in Derry in 2019.

Press Association contributed to this report

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