LONDON, JUNE 18 -- Police in Belgium and the Netherlands have captured three alleged members of an Irish Republican Army squad who investigators suspect played a role in a recent wave of attacks against British soldiers and military installations in Western Europe.
One of the three, a Northern Ireland resident named Donna Maguire, 23, was acquitted earlier this year of a charge of carrying explosives by an Irish court and freed despite an extradition request by West German authorities. The IRA has claimed responsibility for the killing of a soldier and a bombing in West Germany last year, and officials had wanted to question Maguire.
Maguire's release, which was not disclosed publicly until she was arrested on new charges last weekend, is certain to reignite British criticism of the Irish justice system for failing to comply with extradition requests in cases involving alleged terrorists.
Frustrated by a security crackdown and mounting public apathy toward their 21-year campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland, the IRA has turned increasingly to mainland Britain and continental Europe to launch high-visibility assaults on the British military.
In recent weeks, IRA members shot and killed a British army major outside his home in Dortmund, West Germany, and shot dead two young Australian lawyers they mistook for off-duty British soldiers in the Netherlands. Group members have also blown up an unused army building near Hamlin, West Germany.
There have been several recent bombing and shooting attacks in England, including the shooting death of an army private and the wounding of his two companions in a British train station and bombings of two military facilities in central and south London.
Investigators believe the attacks are being carried out by small IRA units operating with substantial autonomy and independence in choosing targets and executing sometimes hastily planned attacks. One result has been frequent "mistakes," such as the killing of the two Australians and last year's shooting deaths of a British soldier's wife and of a soldier's infant child in separate incidents in West Germany. The IRA offered an apology in all three cases.
The three captured suspects, Maguire and two men, reportedly were taking target practice last Saturday in a wooded area near Hoogstraten, Belgium, when residents armed with shotguns held Maguire and one of the men while summoning police. The second man was captured just across the border in Holland, but Maguire's companion escaped despite being handcuffed.
Dutch police recaptured the third suspect this morning in the town of Chaam after residents noticed a man prowling the streets wearing handcuffs. Authorities are also searching for a fourth man who appeared to be patrolling the area in a Ford sedan with British license plates soon after the arrest. When stopped by police, the man sped away, later abandoning the car.
The two arrested men were tentatively identified as Gerard Hart and Michael Collins. All three suspects were reportedly traveling under false passports.
Maguire is wanted for questioning by the West German authorities in two attacks last year -- the bombing of a British army barracks in Osnabrueck and the killing of a British corporal in Hanover.
West German officials said they asked Irish authorities to extradite Maguire after she was arrested carrying bomb detonating switches and an explosives component into Ireland last summer. An Irish court acquitted her in February, but convicted a male companion. Irish officials said today that the West Germans had not completed the paperwork in their extradition request at the time of Maguire's acquittal and release.