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Fifty members of the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment escaped injury when sentry Lance Corporal Alan Norris spotted two men acting suspiciously in the early hours of this morning.
He raised the alarm and the barracks was evacuated shortly before two bombs went off.
The bombers escaped in a stolen car, which was found earlier this evening about 10 miles from the barracks.
Lance Corporal Norris was on patrol duty at about 0300 hours this morning when he spotted the terrorists.
When he challenged them, they dumped a sports bag - containing a third bomb - and ran off. The soldier fired three rounds from his assault rifle but missed.
Some minutes later the first two bombs exploded - no-one was hurt.
Regimental Sergeant Major Bob Powell said: "He had cleared the building of those people sleeping and then cleared the area. Had he not done that at that time, lives could have been lost and it was from his swift, prompt action that lives were not lost."
Soon after, Brian Fleet, who lived about a mile from the barracks, was wakened by a man banging on his front door in the middle of the night.
He assumed there had been a road accident and went to the door but when he looked out and saw a man armed with a pistol shouting angrily in what he described as a broad Irish accent he decided not to open the door.
The gunman then forced his way into another house further down the road and seized the owner's Ford Montego car after threatening to shoot his wife.
The car was found abandoned earlier this evening.
Questions are already being asked about the level of security at the base.
The bombing follows a police raid in December on a flat in Clapham, south London. It uncovered an IRA bomb factory with a range of weapons and semtex explosive.
They also found empty wrappers for 25lb of semtex, which led police to think another mainland bombing operation had already been planned.
Police named two men they wanted to question following the raid, including Patrick Sheehy, a labourer from County Limerick in the Irish Republic .
They have also named him as one of the prime suspects in the Tern Hill attack.
The IRA mainland bombing campaign began with an attack on the Inglis Barracks at Mill Hill in north London in which one person died in August 1988.
There followed the Tern Hill bombing and then one at Deal in September 1989 in which 11 Royal Marine bandsmen were killed.
Patrick Sheehy was thought to have been involved in the Mill Hill and Tern Hill attacks and was later involved in the escalation of violence on the mainland which included explosions at the Stock Exchange and the Carlton Club.
He was found dead after apparently shooting himself in the County Tipperary town of Nenagh on New Year's night in December 1990.
There were reports he had fallen out with the IRA leadership and had become depressed after three years on the run. Although he was fully committed to the IRA campaign he was too well-known to police to be of much use.
An inquest later confirmed he had committed suicide.
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