A gunman opened fire on police on a busy downtown shopping street Saturday, killing two officers. The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the attack.
As shoppers watched, the gunman shot the officers and then fled through the grounds of nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church.
The officers had been on duty only yards from a security gate at the junction of Castle Street and Queen Street, one of the busiest shopping areas in Belfast. Witnesses said they heard five shots.
An elderly woman, speaking on condition she not be identified, said: "I must have come on the scene minutes after it happened. People were feeling for a pulse on one policeman, but I don't think he was alive. He seemed to be very young and only starting out in life.
"You see things like this on television, but it's hard to take in when you see it at firsthand. The people who did this are a disgrace to . . . the land they live in."
The second policeman died later in a Belfast hospital, police said.
The IRA, which has targeted the security forces in its fight to end British rule in Northern Ireland, claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to the Belfast office of Britain's domestic news agency, Press Assn.
The deaths brought to four the number of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers killed this year, and to 29 the number of people killed in sectarian and political violence in Northern Ireland, officials said.
The IRA wants to unite Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland with the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Irish Republic.
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, a bomb exploded outside the British national tourist office late Saturday, breaking windows but causing no injuries, police said. The building also houses the offices of British Airways.
No one claimed responsibility for the blast, but officials there noted that the IRA has frequently targeted British facilities on the Continent.