Belfast man James Corry has confessed he was involved in a Provisional IRA (PIRA) mortar attack on a British army base in Osnabrück, western Germany, in 1996.
Appearing in court for the first day of his trial at Osnabrück regional court, his defence attorney read a statement confirming Mr Corry’s membership of a PIRA active service unit (ASU).
Mr Corry agreed he was in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, ahead of the attack on the Quebec base on June 28th, 1996 and was responsible for mounting a pre-assembled mortar firing device on the back of a rented Ford Transit pick-up truck.
He drove the truck to a side entrance of the base at 6.15pm and triggered a timer, which detonated at 6.50pm. Two mortars failed to ignite, a third detonated on the other side of the fence near a base petrol station.
“The aim was to make clear to the British military that there was no secure place Rückzugsort on the continent,” said Mr Corry, through his defence attorney Dirk Schoenian. “It is not disputed that the aim was to kill members of the British armed forces. But if the aim was to kill as many (people) as possible, the attack wouldn’t have been planned at 6.15pm but at midday when there was as much movement as possible on the base.”
Lower Saxony state prosecutor Melanie Redlich said the mortar device that exploded contained a 70kg ammonium nitrate-sugar mixture and landed 34 metres from the truck.
“It is only by luck that people were neither injured nor killed . . . although 150 people were in the base at the time,” said Dr Redlich.
In his statement, Mr Corry, who was wearing a grey tracksuit top, black shirt, jeans and runners, said he was a father of seven children and one of seven born in Belfast in 1968. His first memory was of seeing a woman shot dead before his eyes as he played on the street. After leaving school in 1986 he had no qualifications and began working as a theatre lighting technician around the British Isles.
He did not say when he joined the PIRA, but by the time of his marriage in 1994, he had been arrested five times. He said he was subjected to psychological torture while in detention, including sleep deprivation through use of light and loud music.
“Belfast was at war,” he said.
Mr Corry had been involved in “absolutely no activities” for the IRA since the 1996 attack and supported the peace process “with complete conviction”.
Mr Corry and his family have been supported in the trial by Sinn Féin and a representative was in court on Wednesday, whom Mr Corry greeted by raising his fist in salute.
He was arrested near his home in Killorglin, Co Kerry, in October 2015 on foot of a European arrest warrant issued by Germany. Last November, the High Court in Dublin ruled Mr Corry should be extradited to Germany.
He presented himself at Dublin Airport in December 2016 and on arrival in Frankfurt - his first time leaving Ireland since 1996 - was formally charged with attempted murder. The statute of limitations has expired on a second explosives charge.
If found guilty he is likely to face between four and five years in prison. The court indicated on Wednesday that one year of that sentence may be commuted due to claims of German procedural delays in acting on information about Mr Corry’s whereabouts supplied by the Irish authorities in 2005.
The court is also considering a request for Mr Corry to serve any sentence in Ireland.
Mr Corry indicated he would not address the court directly, only through his defence attorney. While he would not give any information about other members of the unit behind the 1996 attack, he would give information about the attack as he no longer had any link to the PIRA or felt bound by its oaths of secrecy.
In 2003, former British soldier Michael Dixon was sentenced to six years and six months for his role in the 1996 attack. German prosecutors believe five people in total were involved.
After initial formalities and Mr Corry’s statement, Osnabrück state court was shown video footage of the scene of the attack, including aerial footage of the truck, with a blue tarpaulin covering the back and red propane gas cylinders mounted at an angle.
Inside the camp after the attack, footage showed cars with shattered windows and holes punched in their metal panelling.
The explosion caused almost €100,000 damage to buildings and vehicles.
Mr Corry said he was not aware of the petrol station on the other side of the fence from where the mortar attack was launched.
“I am happy no one was killed or injured,” he said in his statement.
The case continues on Wednesday of next week, with hearings scheduled until December.