Police uncover IRA safe house

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Police have found a safe house used by the IRA terrorists who fired three shells into an Army barracks in Germany last week.

German police said yesterday that three men and two women stayed in the holiday home in a village near Oldenburg from 15 June, two weeks before the attack. Three days ago investigators found in the house a map of Osnabruck, where the Army is based, and sketches of streets and barracks, according to a statement from the Federal Prosecutor at the Germany Supreme Court.

Police are also examining a Ford Transit flat-bed truck linked to the attack, which was found at a motorway service station at Wildeshausen, near Oldenburg. The vehicle, which bore a false British number plate, travelled from Cork, Ireland, to Le Havre, France, on 23 June, with the lorry used in the attack.

The motorway was closed in one direction for one and a half hours while the vehicle was examined, but forensic experts found no traces of explosives.

Police said the Transit van used in the attack was one of a number of vehicles seen at the holiday home. They are also searching for a blue Ford Orion with Northern Ireland number plates including the letters DBZ, which they believe was used by the terrorists. It was spotted, together with the van used in the attack, near the barracks half an hour before the blast, police said. No one was injured when three shells were fired from the right-hand- drive truck.

The shells, constructed by packing 176lb of home-made explosive with a 5lb booster charge into 3ft-long gas bottles, were fired at a pair of fuel pumps, which were not in use at the time. They were launched from tubes, also made from gas bottles, on the back of the truck. Only one shell exploded.

The German authorities believe the terrorists visited other houses before the attack. Police have found two other vehicles thought to have been used by the terrorists, a Daimler-Benz Sprinter lorry and a seven-and-a- half-ton Iveco lorry.

The IRA yesterday ruled out any short-term prospect of resuming its 1994-96 ceasefire, suggesting that more acts of terrorism are likely.

The message was delivered in an interview given by a senior IRA member to An Phoblacht, the republican news sheet, and can be taken as representing the official views of the IRA.

Blaming the British Government for the breakdown of the last ceasefire, the IRA spokes-person said that there was no prospect of a new cessation "until the circumstances are right".

The rest of the interview included complaints that the Government had tried to defeat republicans, rather than attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with them.

n A lorry driver was being questioned last night after police stopped and impounded his vehicle which bore Republic of Ireland registration plates and had been modified.

The driver was arrested at Sandbach services on the M6 and army bomb disposal experts were called to the scene and examined the lorry.

A search of the wagon found no explosives, and the roadblocks were lifted at around 11pm after a five-hour operation.