Hunt for man who bought bomb van

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The IRA's plan to acquire a van large enough to hold 1.5 tons of explosive, and the audacity of its operation in Manchester on Saturday, was revealed yesterday in details from the police terrorist investigation.

As detectives viewed videotapes from more than 40 surveillance cameras in the city hoping for further clues to the identity of the driver of the Ford cargo van which carried the explosives, it was revealed that the van was bought in Peterborough on Friday for pounds 2,000.

A man with an "Irish accent" responded to an advertisement for vans in an auto trade magazine. Assistant Chief Constable Colin Phillips, who gave details of the operation, said the buyer gave no name. The sale was agreed over the telephone without the van being seen.

The cash, in a brown envelope, was given to the driver of a black taxi in Peterborough who was told to deliver it to the seller's home. The delivery took place at 1.30pm. Police said last night that they had traced the taxi driver involved.

Once the cash was received the buyer was told the van was parked in the Fengate area of Peterborough. Police believe the van was picked up between 3pm and 6pm. The van, originating from Norwich, had been bought and sold a number of times. The Peterborough seller was investigated by the police and eliminated from their inquiries.

The IRA team must have driven the vehicle somewhere between Peterborough and Manchester, loaded it with home-made fertiliser and Semtex explosive and then continued into Manchester city centre the following morning.

The van was parked in Corporation Street at 9.20am and was issued with a parking ticket nine minutes later. Within 12 minutes a terrorist warning was received and at 11.15am the bomb went off.