ETA: Is the war far from over?

4th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

ETA carried out a series of bombings across Spain over the weekend, leaving 12 people injured. Does this mean that the terrorist group is still very much alive?

It was a carefully co-ordinated attack.

A woman hugs her son in Ciudad Real just after Monday's bombing

Seven bombs were timed to go off within half an hour in as many cities across Spain as the country took a day off to mark the Day of the Constitution on Monday.

Five people, including a mother and a young girl, were left with slight injuries. There was little damage in any of the targets in  Valladolid, Alicante, Malaga, Leon, Santillana del Mar, Avila and Ciudad Real.

The bombings followed  five bomb attacks last Friday at petrol stations in Madrid, just as hundreds of thousands tried to get away for an extended public holiday. Five suffered minor injuries, including two policemen whose eardrums were damaged by the noise of one blast.

In real terms, the damage was minimal. But in political terms, is was immense.

For it served to blow apart any tentative hopes that might have remained that ETA might be close to a peace deal.

These hopes were not castles built on sand. 

Significantly, Batasuna, the banned political wing of ETA, had called for a political solution rather than a military one last month.

A victim of an ETA attack in Alicante last year

At a public meeting its leader, Arnaldo Otegi, appealed for a "political dialogue" to resolve once and for all the simmering Basque crisis, in which more than 800 people have been killed in ETA's 40-year independence campaign.

Batasuna's appeal, followed by numerous declarations that ETA would silence its weapons, had raised hopes of a ceasefire.

A group of ETA prisoners had also said in a statement that the armed struggled was not serving their purposes any longer, saying in no uncertain terms that it was time to give up the guns.

However, Batasuna crucially failed to condemn ETA violence or urge the Basque terrorist group to lay down its arms, leading many to claim it was another false dawn in the long and, so far, fruitless road to peace in Spain. 

And after the latest bombings, once again Batasuna refused to condemn the terrorists.

Many had hoped ETA might heed the call from its political wing for peace because it has suffered a punishing series of setbacks in recent months, which some thought might force it to sue for a truce.

French and Spanish police have intensified their cross-border cooperation, leading to more than 100 arrests this year.

Their biggest prize was the arrest of the group's political leader, Mikel Albizu Iriate, alias Mikel "Antza".

Spanish police have spent years hunting the man who is thought to have been the political head of the Basque terrorist group for the past 14 years.

Antza attracted international attention earlier this year when he met Catalan leftwing politician Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira.

ETA members

The encounter, which was followed some weeks later by a truce between ETA and Catalonia, in north-west Spain, provoked outrage and Carod-Rovira was forced to resign.

Antza also had contacts with the former conservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and he was behind a 14-month truce declared in 1998.

Basque newspaper reports have suggested he opposed ending the truce, but he is said to have opposed the idea of moderate Basques seeking a status of free association with Spain. Moderates believe it would defeat ETA by granting Basques enough freedom from Spain to undercut any support ETA might receive.

With the abscence of Antza at the head of ETA, it seems the hardliners have once again taken over.

After the Madrid bombins, the Spanish daily El Mundo commented: "Inside the group, there has always been a fight about whether to give up the guns or not and invariably those who want to put the pistols and the bombs on the table have won."

ETA has been relatively quiet this year, especially after the 11 March train bombings in Madrid which left 191 dead.

So the Madrid bombings last week have been seen as doubly significant - not only does ETA feel able to say it can still stage attacks, it also wants to strike the capital, months after Spain's worst terrorist atrocity.

It had so far been unable to do this in the wake of the outrage following the bombings of ten commuter trains in March by Islamic radicals.

To stage any more attacks any earlier would have so damaged ETA's cause they appear to have waited to resume their campaign.

ETA did launch a series of small bomb attacks on coastal resorts in northern Spain in August in an apparent campaign to underline their threat to target Spain's tourism industry.

But ETA is a long way from its high point in 1973, when it assassinated the hated prime minister Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was thought of as a stooge of the dictator Francisco Franco.

It was ETA's greatest moment of popularity. Since then, it has been loathed by most Spaniards.

And today, in purely military terms at least, ETA is said to face a "crisis without precedent", according to high-level anti-terrorist sources, quoted in the Spanish daily El Pais newspaper.

But these same anti-terrorist officers do not under-estimate ETA; they still have a credible arsenal, mostly purchased from arms dealers from Eastern Europe.

French anti-terrorist police seized a large cache of weapons during the arrest of 'Antza' in October, including ground-to-air missiles.

But ETA is also thought to possess a more sophisticated database of potential targets. Perhaps most importantly, its economic power – gained largely through extortion - is still said to be impressive.

December 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: ETA, terrorism, living in Spain

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