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Former IRA member admits to 1996 attack on British barracks in Germany

The Irishman has confessed to taking part in a mortar attack aimed at British soldiers housed in a barracks in the city of Osnabrück. However, the defendant said the IRA splinter group was not trying to kill anyone.

It took over twenty years to track the suspect down, but when the trial finally opened on Wednesday, a confession came the same day.

In a court in the northern city of Osnabrück, a 48-year-old Irish man and former member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary group admitted that he had been an accomplice in an attack on the British army's Quebec Barracks in the same city on June 28, 1996.

The suspect is being tried for attempted murder, with a total of 15 hearings set to occur before December.

Read more: Police arrest suspect in shooting death of former Continuity IRA leader

Investigators examine a street crater left by the mortar attack carried out by an IRA splinter group in June 1996 in Osnabrück.

Investigators examine a street crater left by the mortar attack that an IRA splinter group carried out on British a barracks in June 1996

A mortar attack on British barracks

Twenty-one years ago on June 28, the Irishman and four co-conspirators belonging to the splinter group the Provisional IRA, allegedly parked a pick-up truck outside the Quebec barracks and launched three mortar shells. Two failed to detonate and the third landed in the driveway of a nearby gas station. None of the 150 British soldiers inside the barracks were hurt – a fact which the court attributed "to sheer luck" – but various buildings and cars in the area suffered significant damage.

In the court statement read out by his defense lawyer, the Irishman confessed that he had helped install the improvised mortar launched onto the truck.

However, the suspect sought to distance himself from the terror and violence of the IRA and said he no longer had any ties to the group. He also said the goal of the attack on the Quebec barracks was to show that British soldiers were not safe outside of the United Kingdom but that they did not intend to kill anyone.

The Irishman refused to provide the names of accomplices. Another perpetrator was sentenced in 2003 for attempted murder.

The IRA in Germany

The 1996 attack was the last one undertaken by the IRA in Germany over the course of the organization's decades-long fight for freedom from British rule and the establishment of an independent republic through unification of Northern Ireland with its southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland. Most of the IRA's operations in Germany targeted British soldiers based in the country. 

The German news agency dpa reported that a total of six individuals died in Germany in IRA-related attacks.

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A long path to the courtroom

It took over ten years from the time when European authorities first issued an arrest warrant for the accused Irishman until German prosecutors sprang back into action in 2015 at the behest of Irish authorities and picked up their search. In December 2016, the Irishman was captured in Ireland and extradited to Germany, where he was arrested at Frankfurt airport upon arrival.

Presiding Judge Wolfgang Kirschbaum stated that he therefore considered the Irishman's late landing date in court to be one of unjust delay due to mistakes on the part of the German prosecutors, which could ultimately affect the sentence for the accused.

The court's potential sentence for a confession would be between four and five years, but given the holdup in the execution of justice, the punishment could be reduced by 10 to 12 months.

Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

cmb/rt (dpa, AFP)

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