Will the IRA murders in North Rhine-Westphalia forever go unpunished?

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Irish terrorist group IRA also murdered in Germany. The government in London wants an amnesty for all deeds.

The VW Jetta slowly rolls from the courtyard of the petrol station in Wegberg-Wildenrath in the Lower Rhine region. But the vehicle doesn’t get very far. A volley from a Kalashnikov hits the car. Mick Islania (34), a corporal in the British Army of the Rhine, was hit by eleven bullets in the passenger seat. He dies instantly. Smita, his wife, tears up the steering wheel in her panic, the Jetta hurls over the ditch into a garden. At the same time, a bullet hits the child seat of the six-month-old daughter Nivruti through the rear window, killing the infant. Witnesses later report how the shocked mother holds her dead girl in her arms and does not want to let go. The perpetrators are already up and away.

Katrin Seiler, an investigator at the Federal Criminal Police Office, was at the crime scene on September 26, 1989. She recalls: “It’s not easy to forget something like this, especially when you have children of your own.”

The terrorist attack by the IRA

After more than three decades, public memory of the double murder has faded – but the crime has not been cleared up or punished. The same applies to three more murders in Bielefeld, Unna and Dortmund between 1980 and 1990, to two more murders in Lower Saxony and several attempted murders. One thing is certain: all acts have the same background. The killers come from the ranks of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The terrorist organization has committed itself to every single one of these acts – without, of course, ever saying who exactly the shooters were.

Background: In those years, the IRA wanted to force Northern Ireland’s independence from Great Britain by force. The skirmishes between the IRA, the Northern Irish Loyalists and the British Army resulted in more than 3,000 deaths on all sides, the vast majority of them being Great Britain and Ireland. In the 1970s and 1980s, the IRA increasingly sought its attack targets among members of the Rhine Army stationed in the west of the Federal Republic – as in Wegberg.

The files of the German cases are held by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe. If new clues emerge, the investigation must be resumed under German law – murder does not expire. However, the already low hope of new evidence has faded even more since Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government in London considered an amnesty for all crimes related to the Northern Ireland conflict in the summer. Johnson wants a line. This has led to heated debates in the UK and Ireland. The five main parties in Northern Ireland – both supporters of the Union with Great Britain and supporters of reunification with the EU member Republic of Ireland – as well as the Irish government and victims’ organizations are all against an amnesty. “Victims and survivors should not be treated in this way,” said the outraged organization Wave, which works with bereaved relatives.

The amnesty plan could have practical consequences for criminal prosecution by German investigators. Investigations in Great Britain would hardly exist any more, important information from British colleagues could be omitted.

The series of five IRA murders and more than 40 attempted murders in North Rhine-Westphalia began on the night of August 18-19, 1978. In front of eight British barracks in Mönchengladbach, Krefeld, Düsseldorf, Ratingen, Duisburg, Mülheim / Ruhr, Bielefeld and Minden explosives detonated late in the evening. The damage initially remained manageable. But the attacks soon spread to Lower Saxony, they became more dangerous.

February 1980, Bielefeld. Colonel Marc Coe, father of six, dies after three shots in his Citroen. Just two months later: Military policeman Stewart Leach is seriously injured in an assassination attempt in Münster. 1987, Mönchengladbach: A 100-kilo car bomb detonates near an officers’ mess. 31 people suffer serious injuries, including 27 Germans. “It is a miracle that there are no dead,” said the then Düsseldorf Interior Minister Herbert Schnoor, concerned. A quarter of a year later: Duisburg again. A bomb injures ten soldiers in the sleeping quarters of the Glamorgan barracks in the Wanheimerort district. During the pursuit, a patrol car is shot under fire. And on September 1, 1989, strangers in Münster asked two English soldiers in civilian clothes for the “way to Dortmund”. Then the questioners fire. The two 18- and 19-year-old soldiers survived seriously injured.

The victim just came back from a party

In Dortmund’s garden city, it is June 1, 1990, shortly before midnight. Major Michael Dillon-Lee, (34), father of Marc (9) and James (7), returns from a party with his wife Rosalind. The officer is about to open the door to his apartment on Max-Eydt-Straße when a stolen silver Mazda with Dortmund license plates turns up. A masked, black-clad inmate pulls a K-47 submachine gun and fires ten shots at Dillon-Lee “from a distance of sometimes less than 50 centimeters”, as the Federal Prosecutor later found. Hit six times in the head, he sinks to the ground. Rosalind Dillon-Lee claims to have heard an Irish cry of triumph from the perpetrators. The major dies at 12:20 a.m. Police patrol cars can locate and track the vehicle. They also engage in an exchange of fire with the inmates in which a police officer is injured. In the chaos, however, they lose touch.

Not far away, in Unna-Massen, a similarly brutal attack of a 26-year-old German had recently cost the life. Heidi Hazell, whose husband was a non-commissioned officer of the British, parked her dark blue Saab with GB license plate in front of a supermarket on the evening of September 7, 1989, when 14 MP bullets tore up the car sheet and panes. Twelve of them met the woman. The IRA claimed responsibility for the assassination, saying that the gunshots were also a warning to civilians to get too close to British military personnel. Investigators and the judiciary have so far not been able to conclusively identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable in any of the cases. Andre Krischer is a private lecturer at the University of Münster and has compiled a documentation with students about the IRA attacks in West Germany. “We don’t know who the perpetrators were. The people were never caught, ”he says. The historian assumes that the German police work was “rather inadequate” during these years. “There was criticism from the British police authorities at the time. It concerned the various responsibilities in Germany and the cooperation with the British military police. The German colleagues preferred to investigate on their own and then didn’t find out anything. ”

There are a few indications. They concern the murder weapon. According to ballistic investigations, one and the same Kalashnikov could have been used for the murders of Heidi Hazell, Major Michael Dillon-Lee and Mick Islania and his young daughter Ivruti. Does this suggest that a traveling killer team from the Irish terrorist organization was on the Rhine and Ruhr in 1989/1990 in particular? The connection emerges from the papers of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. Krischer also thinks this is conceivable: “These people were sent to Germany. They were professional killers who have been up to mischief in Northern Ireland, including extortion and drugs ”.

Did the murderers have German helpers?

The federal government was warned about such small IRA units. It was known: “Action Service Units” were set up on British barracks in Germany and could strike at any time. The Federal Government admitted in a communication to the Bundestag at the beginning of 1990 that housing estates owned by British military personnel had been spied on in the greater Ruhr area. However, searches with roadblocks were unsuccessful. And it is also unclear whether the murderers had German helpers to carry out the crime or escape routes.

Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom and shares an island with the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland has less than two million inhabitants, most of them live in the capital, Belfast.

Im Northern Ireland Conflict Fought pro-Irish Catholics led by the underground organization IRA against Protestant, pro-British loyalists. In essence, it was about whether the northern part of Ireland belonging to Great Britain again united with the republic in the south shall be.

Between 1969 and 2001 more than 3,600 people died. On April 10, 1998, the Irish and British Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement; this ended the armed conflict. The agreement saw one Disarm the paramilitary groups on both sides as well as an amnesty for the fighters.

Even today the tensions of both denominations are visible – for example through very high walls between neighborhoods in Belfast.

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