THE two bombs that left two dead and over 60 people injured this week have taken Spain by surprise.
While the Spanish government had feared some activity to mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of Basque separatist group Eusakdi ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom), the attacks nonetheless came as a shock.
This is largely as the regime seemed to be faltering, losing support among followers and finding it increasingly difficult to generate fear across the nation.
It was 50 years on Friday since a group of left wing radicals broke-off from the Basque Nationalist Party to establish the more militant ETA.
Born under the shadow of General Franco, the group’s original fight was to protect the region’s culture and language from the brutal encroachment of the fascist dictator.
Since then, the mission has expanded as the group has fought long and hard at securing independence for the Basque region, an area with a population of over two million people sitting between France and Spain.
The battle has left over 800 people dead.
This week’s attacks show a renewed attempt by ETA to spark public interest in their campaign and shake-off suggestions that the group is no longer capable of carrying out high-profile attacks.
The symbolism of this week’s attacks are clear: an unannounced explosion aimed at a Guardia Civil complex set in a civilian area; a second attack, again aimed at the Guardia Civil, but with the potential to take hundreds of civilian lives.
Representatives from the Spanish government have been keen to stress that this week’s bold attacks and the decision to target areas frequented by holidaymakers is not an indication of the group’s resurgence.
It is claimed that the nature of the attacks could suggest a desperate attempt to regain ground, one final push before the terrorist network folds.
It is interesting to note that terrorist counterparts in Ireland have also slammed ETA’s objective, with the IRA seeing their grand mission for autonomy gain much more through political negotiation.
Unlike the situation in Northern Ireland, ETA sees little room for negotiation. Excluding the possible release of its 750 imprisoned members – many of whom have since condemned the group’s violence – the potential for a similar power-sharing model is remote.
Analysts indicate that the group is battling internal disputes, with Txema Matanzas, one of ETA’s leading figures, describing the group’s structure as “chaotic” and suggesting that the time had come to “put up the shutters”.
The question of Basque independence is not however dead, with 24 per cent of the region still backing a move towards a break-away from Spain and France.
Most importantly though, only one per cent of those questioned support the methods followed by the group.
Investigations into the current structure suggest a shift in leadership, with a wave of well-educated females holding top positions in the terrorist organisation.
Indeed, it has emerged that women may number a quarter of the group’s active cells.
Thursday’s attack was ETA’s first to have claimed lives on the island of Mallorca, following attempts by the group to assassinate King Juan Carlos on the island in 1995 and 2004.
ETA are suspected of carrying out eight attacks this year, including a recent car bomb in June that claimed the life of a policeman.
“Terrorist counterparts in Ireland have also slammed ETA’s objective, with the IRA seeing their grand mission for autonomy gain much more through political negotiation”.
Although worrying, the group’s recent activities are reserved in comparison to bombing campaigns of the 1980s.
ETA’s bloodiest attack occurred in 1987 with the bombing of a Hipercor supermarket in Barcelona killing 21 civilians and leaving 45 shoppers seriously wounded.
Anti-terrorism campaigns and a push by Spanish and French police forces to suffocate the group’s operational capacity, including a series of high-profile arrests of its leadership, have contributed to the group’s demise.
These new attacks look set to silence any potential enthusiasm to re-engage high level political talks with ETA.
Previous talks between the group and the Spanish government were quickly terminated by Prime Minister Zapatero in December 2006, following an explosion at Madrid’s Barajas airport breaking an announced ceasefire.
Further bad news for the group came in May 2009 when the Basque authorities voted an end to 30 years of nationalist rule in the region. It came after the Partido Socialista de Euskadi and Partido Popular formed a coalition voting in Patxi Lopex as the region’s President, who looks set to pursue a non-nationalist agenda.
This development forces any further Basque separatism to come within the existing political framework and greatly reduces any chance of a further push for independence.
With the group’s own region and grass roots support slipping away, could these summer bombs become the final swansong for Eta? Only time will tell.
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