Resurgent Eta kills policeman in car-bomb attack

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The Independent Online

A police officer was killed and four seriously injured when a huge car-bomb explosion, blamed on Eta, devastated a civil guard barracks near Vitoria, the capital of the Basque country.

The assault in the village of Legutiano, which authorities said was meticulously planned and executed, was the most sophisticated since armed separatists ended a ceasefire in December 2006. The blast demonstrated that Eta remained strong and effective, the region's security spokesman said.

Juan Manuel Pinuel Villalon, 41, was on guard duty when the bomb went off before dawn yesterday, detonated by a timer inside a truck parked outside the barracks and laden with more than 100kg of explosives. An officer in the paramilitary civil guard for seven years, Mr Pinuel Villalon volunteered for a posting in the Basque country two months ago. He leaves a wife and young son.

The Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, condemned the attack as "cowardly, miserable and criminal", and thanked MPs for closing ranks in a declaration of repudiation. "We are stronger when we are united," he said.

"Eta has a very powerful infrastructure," Javier Balza, who is responsible for security in the Basque region, said yesterday. Eta enjoyed backing from a great number of radical sympathisers who provided the organisation with help and support, Mr Balza warned.

Unusually, police received no advance warning before the bomb ripped through the barracks where officers and their families, including five children, were sleeping. Four officers, two of them women, were being treated in hospital for serious injuries.

Neighbours described how their beds "jumped from the floor" with the force of the blast, and how windows and doors were blown out "with a noise like thunder".

Spain's Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, travelled to the tiny village early yesterday. "This attack was especially grievous and vicious because they intended to produce a massacre," he said. "How could anyone plant a bomb where five children and an 18-year-old were sleeping?"

Neither Mr Balza nor Mr Rubalcaba suggested that Eta was on its last legs, or that the latest violence marked the desperate final efforts of a dying organisation. That mantra was noticeably absent from yesterday's official reactions, confirming Mr Rubalcaba's recent warnings of a resurgent terror campaign.

Nor was it suggested that the assailants had operated from clandestine bases in France; the implication was that Eta had orchestrated the operation from within the Basque country.

"If anyone thinks that attacks like these frighten us, they are wrong," Mr Rubalcaba said, but he didn't add the usual reassurance that those responsible would soon be defeated.

MPs from all parties signed a joint statement condemning the attack, which included for the first time in many years the wholehearted participation of the conservative opposition Popular Party. "The government knows it has the PP's maximum support for whatever measures are needed to defeat Eta," a party spokeswoman said.

This marks an important change of tack for the PP, which refused to join a cross-party statement condemning Eta's previous fatal attack in March.

Party differences over terrorism have embittered Spain's political scene for years, and weakened Mr Zapatero's anti-terror policy during his first term. But following defeat at the polls, the PP has recognised that public opinion yearns for cross-party consensus. The PP is undergoing a deep crisis following its second electoral defeat, with barely veiled challenges to Mariano Rajoy's leadership.

Meanwhile, Mr Zapatero has ruled out talks with Eta for the foreseeable future.

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