Battle to keep ETA bombs silent during election campaign

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Police successes boost confidence but terrorists expected to target March poll

5 February 2008

BILBAO - "If ETA goes on like this, they will soon be handing in their weapons." This remark recently made by a Basque police official at a meeting last Thursday with the secretary of state for Security, Antonio Camacho, was not a boast, but simply a statement of fact.

The police, essentially in the Cahors operation in France last September and the capture of the Elurra cell which perpetrated the T-4 terminal attack at Barajas airport in 2006, have overturned the plans of the military chief of ETA, Garikoiz Aspiazu Rubina, alias Txeroki, to influence the upcoming elections. "Almost 10 attacks have been prevented in recent months," noted Camacho.

The police are on "maximum alert," however, since ETA may still attempt an attack before the 9 March nationwide poll.

Amongst the general public, the perception of the risk of an attack in Spain remains high or very high in the case of an Islamist group (44.1 percent), rising to 50.1 when people are asked about ETA, according to a recent study by the firm Simple Lógica.

But ETA had difficulty in making a first strike after it announced the end of its most recent ceasefire on 5 June 2007, by saying that "all fronts are open." It did not effect its first important attack until August 24, after a series of failures and arrests on both sides of the French border, when it placed a car bomb near a Civil Guard barracks in Durango.

The police official's remark last week reflected some perplexity about the silence of the only structure that ETA maintains operational in Euskadi, responsible for all the attacks there since August 2007: the so-called Vizcaya cell, led by the released prisoners Martitegi Lizaso and Arkaitz Goikoetxea Basabe and a number of "legal" (no police record) activists.

On 24 December this group placed a bomb in the Socialist Party headquarters in Balmaseda, but has since been silent. Too long a silence, considering the pressure that is being put on the organisation and its sympathisers. The dismantled Elurra cell had been planning a major attack in the electoral campaign, with a car bomb in Madrid's Azca commercial complex. It was also clear by last week that official machinery had been set in motion to outlaw the radical separatist parties ANV and EHAK, not to mention the operations against pro-ETA street vandalism in Álava, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa.

Only 24 hours after the remark, the answer came. Beside a country lane near Getxo in Vizcaya, the Vizcaya terrorists left a beer barrel filled with 40 kilos of explosives and a fuse ready for an attack. "I am convinced the staking out had been done and the target chosen. It was all ready for an attack, and for some reason unknown to us, they had to leave the barrel there," says a Basque police expert.

The director of the National Police and the Civil Guard, Joan Mesquida insists that "ETA is going to try to influence the electoral campaign." But will it be able to do so? There is still more than a month to go until 9 March.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / AITOR GUENAGA 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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