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Osnabrück mortar attack
Part of The Troubles
A Spartan armoured carrier, a type of vehicle deployed at Osnabrück as part of the 4th Mechanized Brigade
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Location Osnabrück, Germany
Coordinates 52°18′1″N 7°58′59″E / 52.30028°N 7.98306°E / 52.30028; 7.98306
Date 28 June 1996
18:50 (UTC+01:00)
Target British Army Quebec barracks
Attack type
Deaths 0
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators Provisional IRA

The Osnabrück mortar attack was an improvised mortar attack carried out by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit based in mainland Europe on 28 June 1996 against the British Army's Quebec Barracks at Osnabrück, Germany.


The main sides of The Troubles, in particular the British Government and the IRA, had accepted by the early 1990s that they couldn't resolve the conflict by force. The IRA, through its political wing, Sinn Féin, foresaw that greater progress towards republican objectives might be achieved by negotiation.[1] In this context, the IRA declared a "permanent cessation" of hostilities on 31 August 1994.[2]

The IRA eventually called off this ceasefire on 9 February 1996 because of its dissatisfaction with the lack of progress of the peace talks. They marked the end of the truce by detonating a truck bomb at Canary Wharf in London, which caused the deaths of two civilians and massive damage to property. In early June 1996, another truck bomb devastated Manchester city centre. The Provisional IRA military activities of 1996–1997 were used to gain leverage in negotiations with the British government during the period.[3] Whereas in 1994–95, the British Conservative Party government had refused to enter public talks with Sinn Féin until the IRA had given up its weapons, the Labour Party government in power by 1997 was prepared to include Sinn Féin in peace talks before IRA decommissioning. This precondition was officially dropped in June 1997.[4]

The attack

The attack was perpetrated at 18:50, local time, when three Mark 15[5] mortar bombs were launched from a Ford Transit van. The devices contained more than 180 lb (81.64 kg) of explosive in each projectile. The van had been modified by a former British Army engineer, Michael Dickson, who built the launch platform and aimed the tubes towards the barrracks.[6] The tubes were screwed to the floor of the van and masked with tarpaulins.[7] Two of the bombs fell short of the perimeter fence and failed to explode, but the third went off 20 yards (18.3 mt) inside the base, leaving a crater near a petrol pump. No fire was ignited, but several buildings, cars and armoured vehicles[8] were damaged by the blast.[9][10] The destruction was described as 'substantial'.[11] There were 150 soldiers inside the facility at the time,[6] but none were injured.[11] An explosive charge was left in the vehicle with the intention of destroying forensic evidence, but the intact van's plates allowed it to be traced to Yorkshire.[10]

The IRA unit was composed of five members, two of them women, who had rented a holiday home in northern Germany where they built the mortar launchers. Michael Dickson later claimed at his trial that he had no experience in handling explosives during his career in the British Army's Royal Engineers. Dickson had served in several British bases in Germany, but never in Northern Ireland. Róisín McAliskey, daughter of republican activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, and Jimmy Corrie were also suspected of being members of the cell. The aim of the IRA was to establish a permanent presence in mainland Europe, rather than cause massive loss of life.[6]


John Major, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, said that the assault showed how the IRA and Sinn Féin were isolating themselves from the peace process.[10] John Bruton, then Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, dubbed the IRA strategy as 'utterly pointless'.[12]

Michael Dickson was arrested in December 2002 on an international arrest warrant relating to the 1996 mortar attack whilst he was driving a lorry-load of contraband cigarettes and tobacco at Ruzyne Airport in the Czech Republic. He was convicted under German law to six and a half years for attempted murder and setting off an explosion.[6] He served his sentence in Celle maximum security prison in Germany, and was released after serving 27 months of his sentence.[13] Róisin McAliskey battled successfully against the extradition warrant issued by the German Justice.[11]

See also


  1. Taylor, Peter (1999). Behind the mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin, Chapter 21: Stalemate, pp. 246–261. ISBN 1-57500-077-6,
  2. CAIN – Chronology of events – August 1994
  3. O'Brien, Brendan (1999). The Long War – The IRA and Sinn Féin. Syracuse University Press, pp. 370–371. ISBN 0-8156-0319-3
  4. Maillot, Agnès (2005). New Sinn Féin: Irish republicanism in the twenty-first century. Routledge, p. 32. ISBN 0-415-32197-2
  5. Geraghty, Tony (2000). The Irish War. Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 193. ISBN 0-00-255617-0
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Ex-soldier jailed for IRA attack on base", Irish Independent, 24 December 2003
  7. Barnaby, Frank (1996). Instruments of terror. Vision Paperbacks, p. 30. ISBN 1-901250-01-6
  8. Former soldier wanted over base attack BBC News, 28 January 2003
  9. Terrorists in mortar attack on barracks The Independent, 29 June 1996
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Plates on bomb van traced to Yorkshire The Independent, 30 June 1996
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "McAliskey extradition bid refused" BBC News, 23 November 2007
  12. Irish leader slams IRA The Palm Beach Post, 1 July 1996
  13. Scot IRA Bomber back on the streets The Daily Record, 7 March 2006

Coordinates: 52°18′1″N 7°58′59″E / 52.30028°N 7.98306°E / 52.30028; 7.98306

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